Press Release, Rassemblement pour la laïcité (Alliance for Secularism)
Quebec Bill 21 :
The English Montreal School Board seeks an exemption from the usual rule of law in order to hire teachers wearing religious symbols.
18th October 2021 : Today the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) is before the Quebec Court of Appeal to request an exception to a rule of law. Although Bill 21 (Loi sur la laïcité de l’État or Act respecting the laicity of the State), is being challenged before the Court of Appeal, it is subject to the presumption of validity during the proceedings of that challenge. And yet, the EMSB is asking that it be allowed to apply the Blanchard decision immediately, in order to hire teachers who cover their face or wear religious symbols in the course of their duties, and it seeks that permission even before the appeal has been decided.
Recall that Justice Blanchard of Quebec Superior Court, in April of 2021, struck down the ban on the wearing of face-coverings and religious symbols for teachers in English-language schools. He did so in response to the EMSB’s argument that its schools wanted to hire and promote persons wearing religious symbols in order to reflect the cultural diversity of the population which the Board serves.
“Teachers are State representatives and thus already bound by the obligation of religious neutrality during the exercise of their duties. Cultural diversity may be expressed in a thousand and one different ways in schools and should be appreciated. However, for a school board to claim religious promotion as an educational approach to diversity is unacceptable in a secular school system. This is not only a departure from secularism, but a negation of its fundamental principles,” according to RPL president Claude Kamal Codsi.
The EMSB’s request is all the more surprising in that it is unrelated to the collective rights of the parents in the Anglophone linguistic minority which the Board is supposed to represent. In that regard, the MLQ has filed with the Court of Appeal the testimony of a parent of EMSB students and member of the governing board of his children’s school, who has asked that Bill 21 be applied in order to respect the freedom of conscience of his children and to avoid associating a figure of authority with a displayed faith. Recall that, during the challenge to Bill 21 before Quebec Superior Court, several parents also gave testimony opposing the wearing of religious symbols by teachers. For these parents, such symbols represent values which are contrary to the moral education which they want to convey to their children. Such considerations are not found only in the French-language school system.
The Attorney-General of Quebec (AGQ) and the Mouvement laïque québécois (MLQ) both oppose the requested exemption (i.e. request for provisional execution) filed by the EMSB and heard today by the Court of Appeal. They argue that there is no reason to depart from the usual rule of law in this case. The AGQ and the MLQ point out, among other considerations, that Section 23 of the Canadian Charter which the EMSB invokes grants constitutional rights of instruction to children in the minority language, not the rights of teachers to circumvent the laws. Obviously no student will be deprived of the right to instruction in English during and after the appeal proceedings and there is no justification for this request for exemption.
“The request for provisional execution filed by the EMSB must be rejected. Protecting the freedom of conscience of parents and children does not depend on the language spoken. Parents of children in English schools also care about the freedom of conscience of their children; they also want them to be protected from religious proselytism, active or passive. They also oppose having their children exposed to values contrary to their deeply held convictions or contrary to equality of the sexes,” concludes Mr. Codsi.
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Claude Kamal Codsi,