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April 21, 2021 2:19 pm

Leading Jewish Groups ‘Deeply Disappointed’ After Quebec Court Upholds Most of Religious Symbols Ban

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avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

The Palais de justice courthouse in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Photo: Ken Lund/Flickr.

Leading Jewish groups expressed disappointment on Wednesday after the Quebec Superior Court largely upheld a bill that effectively bans the wearing of religious symbols by most public service workers.

According to the official government explanatory notes, “Bill 21: An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State,” approved in 2019, will “prohibit certain persons from wearing religious symbols while exercising their functions” in public service, and that “personnel members of a [public] body must exercise their functions with their face uncovered,” along with “persons who present themselves to receive a service.”

The CBC reported that Justice Marc-André Blanchard ruled that while the Bill does violate the rights of religious minorities, this is nonetheless constitutionally permissible according to the “notwithstanding clause” of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which allows for sections of the Charter to be overridden by legislative decision.

Th ruling exempted English-language schools from the Bill, with Blanchard saying that their desire to foster diversity is protected by the Charter.

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The Canadian advocacy group the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said in a statement, “CIJA is deeply disappointed by today’s Quebec Superior Court decision to uphold provisions of Bill 21 that severely restrict religious freedom and the ability of Jewish Quebecers and other faith-based communities to freely pursue careers in the public sector.”

“We believe that secularism of the state is an institutional duty, not a personal one, and should not rest on the outward appearance of individuals,” the CIJA said.

“It is our view that the government failed to make the case that Quebec’s secularity faces a threat that justifies invocation of the notwithstanding clause,” the group added, and pledged to “continue to voice our community’s steadfast opposition to Bill 21.”

The World Jewish Congress weighed in with support for the CIJA’s statement, tweeting, “A court in the Canadian province of #Quebec this week largely upheld Bill 21, a law which bars public sector employees from wearing religious symbols while at work. We echo our affiliate @CIJAinfo’s position in opposition to Bill 21 which restricts religious freedom.”

The Sikh community echoed Jewish concerns about the Bill, with the World Sikh Organization stating, “While we are pleased that the Quebec Superior Court has struck key provisions of Bill 21 as they apply to the QNA & the English School Board, we must continue the legal battle to see this discriminatory law struck in its entirety.”

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