Quebec religious symbols ban violates equality right that can't be overridden: lawyer

MONTREAL — Lawyers for groups opposing Quebec’s religious symbols ban told the province's Appeal Court today that the law violates a constitutional gender equality provision that can't be overridden by the notwithstanding clause.

The law known as Bill 21, which bans the wearing of religious symbols by teachers, police officers and other government employees deemed to be in positions of authority, proactively invokes the Constitution's notwithstanding clause to shield it from court challenges.

Lawyers for the English Montreal School Board and the Canadian Human Rights Commission argued during the second day of hearings before the province's highest court that the law disproportionately affects Muslim women, violating a section of the Constitution that states all rights apply equally to women and men.

Perri Ravon, a lawyer for the school board, says access to information requests sent to roughly 300 public institutions have revealed that the restrictions imposed by the law only affected Muslim women.

But a lawyer for Quebec's attorney general argued that the equality guarantee can't be used to strike down the law and that the notwithstanding clause allows the province to override equality rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In April 2021, a Quebec Superior Court judge found that the gender equality guarantee could not be used on its own to invalidate laws as he upheld the bulk of Bill 21.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2022.

The Canadian Press