Canada court refuses to suspend religious symbol law

Critics argue law unfairly targets Muslim women

Barry Ellsworth   | 13.12.2019
Canada court refuses to suspend religious symbol law


The Quebec Court of Appeal Thursday refused to suspend the Quebec law that bans most public servants from wearing religious symbols while on the job, including teachers and police officers.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, along with a university student, had argued the law unfairly targets Muslim women who wear the hijab. The organizations said the law also disproportionately applies to women and in doing so it violates the sexual equality rights enshrined in the Canadian charter of rights.

But Thursday’s ruling does not end the fight against the law.

“While we are disappointed with the result, we never thought that fighting for the rights of Quebecers and Canadians would be easy,” said Mustafa Farooq, executive director of the NCCM.

They had asked the judge to grant a stay (suspend the law) while the Quebec Superior Court decides if the law is constitutional. A ruling is expected to be made sometime in the future.

But the Quebec government put a clause, called the notwithstanding clause, into the legislation. That clause severely limits appeals under the Canadian and Quebec charters or rights.

The main challenge made to the Quebec Superior Court is that the law is too vague, banning religious symbols such as hijabs, turbans, kippahs and crosses for some in the public sector, but not others. In doing so, the law defies its own secularism that stipulates respect for equality and religious freedom, opponents argue.

The secularism law also is the subject of a lawsuit by the union representing 45,000 Quebec teachers. Some Muslim women who wear the hijab said they were rejected when they applied for teaching positions after the bill became law earlier this year.

Both the NCCM, the civil liberties organization and the province have said they will take legal fight to the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary.

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