Groups launch challenge of Quebec’s secularism bill one day after it becomes law

Less than 24 hours after it became law, groups representing Canadian Muslims and civil liberties advocates sought Monday to have Quebec’s secularism legislation struck down as unconstitutional.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and Ichrak Nourel Hak — a Universite de Montreal education student who wears a hijab — are listed as plaintiffs in the case.

They are seeking an immediate judicial stay on the sections of the law that prohibit public sector employees from wearing religious symbols at work. They are also seeking a stay on the section that requires people to give or receive state services with their faces uncovered.

Their lawyer, Catherine McKenzie, said she’ll be in Superior Court Thursday arguing for the stay application. The end goal is to have a judge strike down the entire law, known as Bill 21 — but she says the obvious legal avenues to fight it were blocked.

Bill 21 invokes the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Constitution. That clause prevents citizens from challenging the law for violating fundamental rights and freedoms protected by the Canadian charter.

The legislation passed by a vote of 73 to 35 Sunday night after the Coalition Avenir Quebec used the mechanism of closure to end debate on the bill. The new law prohibits public workers in positions of authority — such as teachers, police officers, judges, prosecutors — from wearing religious symbols on the job.

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