Press Release of the Rassemblement pour la laïcité (RPL, Alliance for Secularism)
Bill 21 on State Secularism – Court of Appeal
Alliance for Secularism supports complaint before Canadian Judicial Council
Montreal, Sunday 1st December 2019 — Given the growing evidence of a lack of impartiality, the Rassemblement pour la laïcité (RPL, Alliance for Secularism), a coalition representing several organizations of civil society which promote secularism, supports the step taken by historian Frédéric Bastien who recently submitted a complaint to the Canadian Judicial Council concerning Chief Justice Duval-Hesler of the Court of Appeal, in the case of the request to suspend Bill 21 on State secularism.
Indeed, in light of several public statements made by Justice Duval-Hesler, the RPL considers, as does Mr. Bastien, that it is no longer possible to have confidence in the impartiality of the current appeal process which is currently reconsidering the decision rendered by Justice Yergeau in lower court refusing the injunction requested by opponents of the Act respecting the laicity of the State.
From the outset, past writings of Justice Duval-Hesler have given the impression that she currently holds, and has for some time held, a prejudice favorable to the theses put forward by the opponents of secularism. For example, in an article published in 2011 and entitled “Evolution of equality rights and the elimination of unconscious prejudices of judges with respect to equality”, she declared that “talk about the negative consequences of multiculturalism cannot lead anywhere.”
Explicit appearance of bias in this affair goes much further still. Thus, at a management conference held last August 21st, an event attended by lawyers of the opposing parties and by Duval-Hesler, the Chief Justice herself raised a legal argument which has not been submitted previously, the argument that Article 33 (Notwithstanding Clause) does not apply to Article 28 of the Canadian Charter. That the Chief Justice herself should raise such legal arguments is totally irregular, and all the more so in the context of an appeal process whose purpose is to determine whether there is any error in the decision rendered by the lower court.
Similarly, in the course of the November 26th session, Chief Justice Duval-Hesler continued in a similar vein by expressing various political opinions which pre-judged the case and by associating Bill 21 with a “visual allergic” reaction by certain persons when confronted with religious symbols, thus misrepresenting a quasi-constitutional law adopted in the public interest. She also declared that the legislation explicitly targets veiled women, an assertion which is patently false, as veiled women are not even mentioned in the law.
Again, at the November 26th session, as the government lawyer Cantin invoked article 33 of the Canadian Charter, the judge interrupted him to ask, “What is your religious sign?” Such a question is obviously completely inappropriate and out of place.
Ms. Michèle Sirois, co-spokesperson of the RPL, declared, “The accumulation of troubling facts has convinced us that the impartiality of the process is threatened, with the risk of compromising public confidence in the administration of justice. Indeed, given the importance of Bill 21, a law implementing State secularism and of fundamental significance for Quebec society, nothing could be more harmful to the development of this issue than to have even the smallest doubt about the integrity of the judicial process surrounding challenges to the Bill. Hence the importance for the Canadian Judicial Council to examine the complaint made against the Chief Justice.”
The Rassemblement pour la laïcité (RPL, Alliance for Secularism) is a citizen’s coalition of several organizations such as Association québécoise des Nord-Africains pour la laïcité (AQNAL, Quebec Association of North-Africans for Secularism), Intellectuels pour la laïcité (IPL, Intellectuels for Secularism), Laïcité capitale nationale (LCN, National Capital Secularism), Libres penseurs athées (LPA, Atheist Freethinkers), Mouvement laïque québécois (MLQ, Quebec Secular Movement), Mouvement national des Québécoises et Québécois (MNQ, Natioal Movement of Quebecers), Pour les droits des femmes du Québec (PDF Québec, For the Rights of Women of Quebec), Syndicalistes et progressistes pour un Québec libre (SPQ libre, Unionists and Progressives for a Free Quebec), etc.