It’s not necessarily news to say that Quebec’s so-called secularism bill or Bill-21 has passed. Premier Francois Legault’s government used its majority to get the bill pushed through by a vote of 73 to 35. As a reminder, the bill prohibits public servants in positions of authority from wearing religions symbols on the job. The legislation includes wording that pre-emptively invokes Section 33 of the Canadian Constitution. As a consequence, no citizen will be able to challenge the bill on grounds it violates fundamental freedoms granted by law. However, a Section 33 declaration needs to be renewed every five years.
The part that is perhaps more newsworthy at this stage is the lack of prominent voices decrying such policies and the invocation of the notwithstanding clause.
Yes, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have filed motions to the Superior Court in Quebec. And yes, some of the nations’ other premiers have provided the ‘appropriate’ concern over the matter. But given the slippery slope these laws can sometimes lead into and the messages they send to a larger public (and the world), the outcry has been slim to none.
Speaking to reporters in Washington this past June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had this to say: “We do not feel that it is a government’s responsibility, or in a government’s interest, to legislate on what people should be wearing. We have a strong Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and we will certainly ensure that our views are well known and continue to defend Canadians’ rights.” Hardly an outcry or the strong support needed at the federal level to protect citizens’ rights in the workplace and beyond. A much stronger voice is needed, perhaps at the union and workplace level in Quebec, but also around the country, supporting workers religious rights.