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Top court won't hear bid to suspend Quebec's secularism law

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada said Thursday it will not look at whether parts of Quebec's secularism law should be suspended while a full legal challenge of the measure plays out.
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OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada said Thursday it will not look at whether parts of Quebec's secularism law should be suspended while a full legal challenge of the measure plays out.

The law, known as Bill 21, prohibits some public-sector workers, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols at work.

In December, the Quebec Court of Appeal rejected a bid by a national Muslim organization, a civil-liberties group and a university student who wears a hijab to have the central elements of the law suspended while their legal arguments are heard. 

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms' notwithstanding clause allows governments to shield legislation against court challenges concerning the violation of fundamental rights and freedoms.

In a 2-1 ruling, the appeal court acknowledged the secularism law was causing harm that may be serious and irreparable but said Quebec's application of the notwithstanding clause meant it should not be suspended.

Following its usual practice, the Supreme Court gave no reason for refusing to hear the case.

Civil liberties organizations had joined with a university student who wears the hijab to have central provisions of the law suspended. The full legal challenge is scheduled to be heard in October. 

The groups said in a statement Thursday they are disappointed the highest court in the country declined to grant leave to appeal.

"While we are deeply disappointed in this result, our main challenge of the law still lies ahead," said Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, equality program director with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims added it remains committed to fighting Bill 21. 

"We promised to defend Canadian civil liberties and we will continue to keep that promise," said Mustafa Farooq, the council's executive director. "This decision, while not the one we were hoping for, is not the end of the battle."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 9, 2020.

The Canadian Press




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