Canadian PM urged to speak out on Quebec religious symbols bill

B’nai Brith Canada calls on PM Justin Trudeau to speak out on Quebec bill banning public employees from wearing kippahs.

Elad Benari ,

Justin Trudeau
Justin Trudeau

B’nai Brith Canada on Thursday called on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to speak out against Quebec’s religious symbols bill, after a legal effort to block it temporarily came up short.

Bill 21 which was approved last month bans public employees such as teachers, judges and police officers from wearing religious symbols including kippahs, turbans and hijabs at work.

In a brief judgment released on Thursday, Justice Michel Yergeau held that Bill 21 was not causing irreparable harm that would justify freezing the law until a complete judicial review is undertaken.

“B’nai Brith is deeply disappointed by the Court’s decision,” said Steven Slimovitch, National Legal Counsel for B’nai Brith Canada. “Now that an immediate judicial solution is unavailable, we call on the Prime Minister to speak out in defense of all Quebecers’ religious liberties.”

The Quebec National Assembly has tried to insulate Bill 21 from scrutiny on human rights grounds by using the notwithstanding clause to exempt it from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

However, arguments were made that it could still be struck down for violating the federal-provincial separation of powers or being too vague to implement consistently.

The application against Bill 21 was brought by education student Ichrak Nourel Hak, the National Council for Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA).

B’nai Brith Canada noted that it has been publicly opposed to Bill 21 from the outset, and has made submissions to the National Assembly against the law. If the application against Bill 21 proceeds to a full judicial review on its merits, B’nai Brith Canada said it would consider intervening in the litigation.

In 2014, a bill that would have banned the wearing of religious symbols, including a kippah, in public workplaces was raised for public hearings in Quebec.

The controversial legislation resulted in a rare cooperation between Jewish and Muslim organizations, after prominent Muslim groups joined their opposition to the bill which they said amounts to a form of "institutionalized discrimination", that ultimately creates two levels of Quebec residents.

The bill was shelved later that year, after the Liberal Party won the provincial election, defeating the separatists who pushed for it.