School board reportedly gets federal funds to fight Quebec secularism bill

Quebec’s immigration minister is denouncing federal funding reportedly granted to a group contesting the province’s secularism law in court.

Simon Jolin-Barrette says it’s not right that Quebec taxpayer money should go towards fighting a law most people in the province support.

The Montreal Gazette reports the English Montreal School Board received $250,000 from the federal government’s Court Challenges Program to mount legal challenges against two provincial laws, including the controversial religious symbols law known as Bill 21.

The program, which the Trudeau government reinstated in 2017, provides financial support to groups bringing human rights or language-related cases of national significance before the courts.

The program’s website states that it is administered independently of the government by the University of Ottawa, with funding decisions made by expert panels reporting to the school.

Jolin-Barrette says $125,000 of the funding granted to the school board was for a legal challenge to the secularism law, which prevents some civil servants in positions of authority, including teachers, from wearing religious symbols on the job. The second sum was reportedly in order to contest the transfer of two schools to another school board.

Federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said he couldn’t confirm the information, because the program is administered independently and the committee does not make its decisions public.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly said he doesn’t agree with a government telling people how to dress, but has said the federal government would not intervene in any legal challenges at this stage.

On Wednesday, Jolin-Barrette called on Trudeau to clarify his stance.

“That’s $125,000 of Canadian taxpayers’ money, including Quebecers’, for a law that Quebecers want. Is Mr. Trudeau in agreement?” Jolin-Barrette said.

“The federal government must answer whether it agrees with this use of the program.”

When asked about the matter during question period, Trudeau said he had nothing to do with the funding.

“The Court Challenges Program is administered independently from the government, entirely,” he said in response to a question from Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet.

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