Canadian Bar Association calls on Quebec to drop notwithstanding clause from Bill 21

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Rania El-Alloul speaks to the media as her lawyer, Julius Grey, looks on at a news conference Friday, March 27, 2015, in Montreal. El-Alloul is seeking a declaratory judgment after a Quebec judge refused to hear her case because she was wearing a hijab. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

The Canadian Bar Association has come out against Quebec’s pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause to shield its controversial secularism bill from court challenge.

The president of the association’s Quebec branch, Audrey Boctor, said today that the Quebec government is depriving citizens of the ability to make an enlightened decision about legislation that limits the rights of religious minorities.

Bill 21, introduced last Thursday, would prohibit public sector workers deemed to be in positions of authority, including school teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols on the job.

Marie-Michelle Lacoste, who now goes by Warda Naili after converting to Islam, left, and her lawyer Catherine McKenzie speak to the media at a news conference Tuesday, November 7, 2017 in Montreal. The National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association announced the launch of their constitutional lawsuit filed in Quebec Superior Court against Bill 62,THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

The inclusion of the notwithstanding clause blocks citizens’ from challenging the bill over violations of fundamental rights protected by the federal and provincial charters.

Premier Francois Legault has said his government invoked the clause to avoid legal challenges that would cause lengthy delays in the law’s implementation. Boctor says Legault’s comments suggest the court process is useless or illegitimate.

She adds that while the use of the notwithstanding clause blocks obvious court challenges, it would be wrong to assume the bill won’t end up before the courts. Boctor says legal scholars have already raised a number of grounds on which it could be challenged.

A spokesman for Bill 21 sponsor, Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, was not immediately available for comment.