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Muslim, civil liberties groups begin court battle against Quebec secularism law

People wait to enter the courtroom for a hearing challenging Bill 21, Quebec's religious symbols law, Tuesday, July 9, 2019 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

 

MONTREAL — A national Muslim organization and a civil liberties group have begun making their case in court against Quebec’s secularism law.

Lawyer Catherine McKenzie argues that Bill 21 — which bans some public sector workers from wearing religious symbols at work — is unconstitutional.

She told a judge today that Quebec is trying to legislate the relationship between the state and religion and doing so is the sole jurisdiction of the federal government.

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.

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

McKenzie says the notwithstanding clause doesn’t prevent the courts from reviewing larger issues around the constitutional divisions of power. She says Quebec is attempting to assert its vision of secularism on citizens for moral purposes, something only the federal government can do.

Arguments are expected to continue throughout the day.

The Canadian Press

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