Blog 135: Four Myths about Quebec Bill 21

David Rand

2022-01-23

Here are four falsehoods which are regularly heard concerning Quebec Bill 21. The word “myths” in the title is perhaps too weak—the term “lie” would be more appropriate—as opponents of the Bill blithely repeat them.


[1] Bill 21 is discriminatory.

 FALSE 

I have already refuted this myth in a previous blog, Is Quebec Bill 21 Discriminatory? To summarize, I add the following:

I have heard that most drivers who get ticketed for speeding are under 30 years of age. If so, does that mean that speed limits discriminate on the basis of age? No. It simply means that members of some age groups have a tendency to drive faster than others.

Such is the case with Bill 21. The law does not discriminate on the basis of either religion or sex. But adherents of some religions or certain religious movements are more likely to break the law because those movements aggressively advocate the wearing of religious symbols by one sex or the other. In particular Islam, especially its political variant, is extremely misogynistic and aggressively promotes the wearing of the veil by women. It is religion that discriminates, not Bill 21.

Bill 21 works like speed limits and anti-smoking laws. These laws do not discriminate against persons. On the contrary, they restrict certain behaviours. Smokers are not excluded from restaurants and bars, but everyone must refrain from smoking in those locations. One must step outside if one wishes to smoke.


[2] Bill 21 denies rights to religious believers, rights which atheists continue to enjoy.

 FALSE 

Wearing an ostentatious atheist symbol may already be against Quebec’s Public Service Act (sections 10, 11, 12). I am not a lawyer, so I could be mistaken, but such a symbol could very well be considered political. The symbol would also be banned under Law 21. Of course, atheism is not a religion, but it is an opinion about religion, so an atheist symbol could be considered a religious symbol in that sense.

What Bill 21 does in fact is remove a privilege: that is to say, before it was adopted, political symbols were banned for civil servants but not religious ones. Bill 21 levels the playing field. Before Bill 21, religious believers enjoyed a privilege that was denied to atheists. However, Bill 21 still does not go far enough: the ban on religious symbols should be extended to all civil servants, as the Public Service Act already does for political symbols.


[3] Bill 21 violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

 UNDECIDED 

A court challenge is underway to determine whether or not Bill 21 is compatible with the Charter. This process is not yet complete and will not be until the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled. In addition, the four decisions rendered so far have all maintained Bill 21 in force. These decisions are:

In the most important of these four decisions, Justice Blanchard struck down two aspects of Bill 21 (the ban on face-coverings in the National Assembly and application of the Bill to English-language schools) while maintaining the rest of the law. However, the reasons he invoked to justify these two exceptions are extremely dubious and there is a good chance they will be overturned on appeal. Be that as it may, the legal process is incomplete. It is therefore premature to declare definitively that Bill 21 is or is not compatible with the Charter. We must wait.

Opponents of Bill 21 complain loudly about Bill 21’s use of the notwithstanding clause, i.e. clause 33(1) of the Charter. But they must face the fact that it forms part of the Charter and is therefore compatible with it. Furthermore, this provision helps protect democracy because it helps to counter the tyranny of judges who are appointed for life (and appointed by the federal government as well), whereas MNAs who pass the laws are elected by the people for a limited time and can be replaced.


[4] Bill 21 violates the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 FALSE 

Consider the following articles of that Declaration:

  • Article 18 : Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
  • Article 29.2 : In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

Note that Article 18 refers to the right “to manifest his religion or belief…” “…in public or private.” However the workplace is not mentioned. Note also that Article 29.2 stipulates that rights and freedoms may be limited “for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others.” This is precisely what Bill 21 does: it places a limit on freedom of religious practice (but no limit on religious belief) for civil servants in positions of authority, including teachers, in order to protect the freedom of conscience of users of civil services and pupils in schools.


2 comments on “Blog 135: Four Myths about Quebec Bill 21
  1. Gina Bisaillon says:

    Thank you, David. You are right to call them lies because I doubt that the ones who utter them do so in good faith. They know they’re lying!

  2. Lorraine donovan says:

    These comments and discussions are helping me clear up my own ideas. Very helpful when speaking to fellow Albertans. Thanks everyone.

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