Groups seeking to suspend Quebec secularism law granted leave to appeal

MONTREAL — Quebec’s highest court agreed Thursday to hear an appeal on behalf of groups seeking to suspend the central parts of the province’s secularism law.

Catherine McKenzie, a lawyer for the applicants, said Quebec Court of Appeal Chief Justice Nicole Duval Hesler did not give a reason for granting leave to appeal in a ruling from the bench.

McKenzie said it is rare for a judge to grant leave to appeal a lower court’s decision denying an injunction.

Quebec’s secularism law, known as Bill 21, prohibits some public sector workers, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols at work.

McKenzie and other lawyers representing a national Muslim organization, a civil liberties group and a university student who wears an Islamic head scarf had asked for an immediate stay of the central components of the law while their full legal challenge is heard.

They argued the law was causing serious harm to religious minorities because it encroached on federal jurisdiction, it was impermissibly vague and it violated a citizen’s right to participate in their democratic institutions.

But Superior Court Justice Michel Yergeau ruled on July 18 that the groups had failed to demonstrate the law is creating enough damage to warrant the stay.

He noted in his written ruling that the applicants were severely limited in their stay application because Bill 21, adopted in June, invokes the Canadian Constitution’s notwithstanding clause. That clause prevents citizens from challenging the law for violating fundamental rights and liberties protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

McKenzie said Duval Hesler will release a written decision later. A date for the appeal hearing has not been set.

“We asked for an accelerated hearing,” McKenzie said in an interview. “So we’re hoping to get heard as soon as possible.”

A representative from the Quebec government was not immediately available for comment.

The Canadian Press

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