Many of us listened to Shaheen Juniad on Sunday, January 16th, 2022, as she spoke of her Muslim faith and of the Islamophobia that many face on a day-to-day basis. We have heard such terrible stories over the past few years: The senseless murder of six men in 2017 at the Islamic Cultural Center in Québec City. The family run down in London, Ontario in 2021. And the teacher in Chelsea, Québec who was removed from her position teaching Grade 3 students.
What can we do?
The Coalition Inclusion Québec (CIQ) is a group of citizens who are opposed to Law 21 (An Act respecting the laicity of the state). This legislation bans the wearing of religious symbols such as hijabs, kippa and turbans by teachers, lawyers and other government employees deemed to be in positions of authority.
Rev. Diane Rollert of the Unitarian Church of Montréal is one of the founding members of this coalition and a number of Lakeshore UU Congregation members have been involved in meetings and demonstrations.
A legal team has been working pro bono contesting the legality of this very unfair law. In April 2021, Justice Blanchard did not strike down the law in its entirety but made it clear that the law violates human rights and that the government’s use of the ‘not withstanding clause’ is excessive.
This case is pivotal for our constitutional future. If Law 21 is upheld because of the notwithstanding clause, the Québec legislature and legislatures across the country are likely to start invoking the “notwithstanding” clause as a matter of course, rendering constitutional protections of basic rights and freedoms meaningless. We have already seen this in Québec with the tabling of Bill 96 which proposes to make broad amendments to the Charter of the French Language and other laws. Following the pattern established by Bill 21, it too invokes the notwithstanding clause, this time to shield vast sweeps of government powers from the protections granted by the Canadian and Québec Charters of Rights.
On June 2, 2021, the CIQ filed a declaration of appeal, setting out eight distinct grounds of appeal. CIQ’s case is one of four cases which had been joined for trial and which are now before the Court of Appeal. They expect that the case will then be heard in the Court of Appeals sometime in the fall of 2022.
Their lawyers continue to work pro bono, dedicating literally thousands of hours of legal work to the case without charging a penny for their time.
However, there are still costs that must be covered. There are over 10,000 pages of exhibits and expert reports from the trial record which must be reproduced for the Court of Appeal. As well, there are costs for preparing and reproducing the physical copies of the briefs that will be filed.