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Bill 21: Quebec Court of Appeal rules secularism law is constitutional

The Quebec Court of Appeal has ruled that the province’s secularism law is constitutional and overturned a lower court ruling that exempted English school boards from the law, known as Bill 21.

In a decision today, the province’s highest court upholds much of a 2021 Quebec Superior Court ruling, which said the law’s use of the notwithstanding clause overrode infringements of fundamental rights.

The ruling is a victory for the Quebec government, which had appealed the ruling on the grounds that a provincial law must apply equally across the province.

The 2019 law declares the province is a secular state and includes a provision prohibiting public sector workers in positions of authority — including teachers, judges, and police officers — from wearing religious symbols on the job.

The Court of Appeal did not agree with the lower court, which had exempted English school boards on the basis that minority language education rights — which aren’t covered by the Charter’s notwithstanding clause — weren’t respected.

The Quebec government has repeatedly argued that Bill 21 is moderate and supported by a majority of Quebecers, while opponents say it discriminates against racialized minorities who choose to practise their faith.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 29, 2024.

This is a breaking news story. More coming.

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