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For Immediate Release, April 5, 2019

The Quebec legislature recently tabled Bill 21 – An Act respecting the laicity of the State. If passed, this legislation would prohibit public servants in positions of authority from wearing any kind of religious symbols. This would include police officers, judges, prosecutors and school teachers. The South Asian Bar Association of Toronto is strongly opposed to the enactment of this legislation. Bill 21 was proposed by the Quebec Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion in the spirit of secularism. However, Bill 21 is far from inclusive as the legislation appears to be specifically targeted at certain communities, including Muslims and Sikhs who wear turbans and head scarves as part of the practice of their respective religions. Even though the legislation applies to all public servants, these two communities will face particular disproportionate effects. Additionally, we are concerned that similar legislation may ultimately influence private sector employment laws and that in the interim Bill 21, will justify discriminatory hiring / employment policies that may be adopted by private sector employers.

The Quebec government has invoked the notwithstanding clause to implement Bill 21 which will allow the legislation to override the religious freedoms and protections guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While the notwithstanding clause is a fundamental aspect of Canadian federalism, it is most concerning when this clause appears to be used to implement a blatant attack on the religious freedoms of many minorities.

At SABA Toronto we respect all religions and everyone’s right to express their religious beliefs. SABA Toronto will continue to defend religious freedom and diversity in our communities and in workplaces across Canada.