Commentary: Party leaders should have talked about Bill 21

Commentary by a professor of law and labor relations at the Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria.

Even if we admit that Quebecers are not “racists”, it cannot be reasonably disputed that the Government of Quebec has adopted discriminatory behavior.

Bill 21 (formerly the “State Secularism Act”), enacted in 2019, specifically prohibits certain provincial government employees from wearing, among other things, “religious symbols” (for example, a crucifix necklace or a turban) hanging at work.

Section 2 (a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of religion, and section 15 (1) prohibits discrimination based on religion.

Therefore, any legislation that infringes religious freedom is presumed unconstitutional.

However, even though a law can discriminate on the basis of religion, it can still be valid if it constitutes a “reasonable limit” on religious freedom. This follows from section 1 of the Charter.

However, the Quebec government did not want to justify Bill 21 in open court. Instead, he chose the nuclear option to invoke the “notwithstanding clause” in section 33 when he passed Bill 21.

Section 33 allows federal and provincial governments to validly pass laws that would otherwise be unconstitutional. A charter exemption cannot exceed five years, but it can be successively renewed.

If the Quebec government was so convinced that its law was not discriminatory, or that even if it was discriminatory, it could nonetheless be justified on the basis of legitimate public interest considerations, why did it use the exemption? ?

There is, in my opinion, only one sensible explanation. The Quebec government knew that Bill 21 was discriminatory, it knew that the law could not be justified on legitimate public interest grounds, but since, apparently, the law would be popular with a majority of the electorate. , he decided to invoke the notwithstanding clause.

Those directly and negatively affected would only have to aspire, and either comply with the law, or find other work.

Bill 21 is a vulgar piece of legislation, and MM. Trudeau, O’Toole and Singh should have unequivocally expressed their absolute horror of him when asked to comment.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that our main party leaders put political opportunity (that is, the desire not to offend Quebec voters) before fundamental egalitarian principles, but it is is still deeply disappointing.

© Colonist of the time of copyright

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