Americas

Canadian court hears appeal to religious symbol ban

Quebec law unfairly targets Muslim women who want to teach

Barry Ellsworth   | 27.11.2019
Canadian court hears appeal to religious symbol ban

TRENTON, Canada  

A Canadian appeals court was told Tuesday that a new law in Quebec that bans religious symbols for most public employees affects women more than men, violating the country’s constitution.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees sexual equality and therefore overrules the province invoking a special clause that prevents a court challenge to the law, argued Olga Redko, a lawyer for the applicants, told the three Quebec Court of Appeal judges.

The law is being challenged by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, a civil liberties association, and a university student who is Muslim and wears a hijab, or headscarf.

“This horrendous law is intolerable to anyone who cares about human rights, equality, freedom and justice,” said Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, a director with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

The law prohibits most public employees in positions of authority -- including teachers, nurses and police officers -- from wearing religious symbols while on the job. That includes hijabs, turbans, kippahs and Christian crosses.

But the applicants argued Tuesday that Muslim women who want to be school teachers are unfairly targeted by the new law.

The applicants introduced nine affidavits from Muslim women who are not able to teach because of their faith.

One said she was hired by a Quebec school, only to be told a few days later that she was out.

“The head of the school told me my candidacy wasn’t being refused, but simply the law was being applied,” she said in the applicant statement.

Justice Department lawyer Eric Cantin, representing the province, said the justice system considers laws passed by elected politicians in the public interest and so the secularism law, as it is called, should stand. That is the case even when people are harmed because of the law. The irreparable harm caused must be “clear, flagrant” for challenges to be made, he said.

Chief Justice Nicole Duval Hesler said she and her two colleagues will make their ruling sometime in the future.

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