First Legal Challenge of Quebec’s Religious Neutrality of the State Law – a Brief Update

On Tuesday November 7, 2017, the first legal challenge to the Quebec law (Bill 62) on the religious neutrality of the state was filed in Superior Court.

The National Council of Muslims, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and citizen Marie-Michelle Lacoste, have filed a motion which state that the law “severely undermines Muslim women’s freedom of religion and the right to equality in Quebec.” This is a violation on both the grounds of religion and sex under the Charters of Rights and Freedoms of Canada and Quebec. They are seeking a temporary stay of section 10 of the law (which requires all citizens giving and receiving public services to do so with their faces uncovered) until the case is heard on the merits.

The lawyer who is leading the case, Catherine McKenzie, partner at IMK LLP, adds (paraphrase and translation):

“that far from achieving the neutrality of the state, the new law creates a state preference for certain religious practices, and makes public servants start thinking about the religion of the people in front of them when they are not supposed to do that.”

Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée on behalf of the Quebec government announced that they would defend the law and its application. Also, Minister Vallée did not exclude the possibility of using the notwithstanding clause in the event the legal challenge is successful.

According to a piece in Le Devoir, other groups will soon join the protest movement. For example, Julius Gray, a constitutional lawyer, wants to join the movement but believes that other provisions of the law should also be challenged and will file a second motion if need be.

The article also indicates that the federal Minister of Justice may intervene. Jody Wilson-Raybould said the federal government was aware of the request and was “studying it carefully.”

“As Attorney General of Canada, I am committed to upholding the rights of all Canadians under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” she said.

The motion to stay is scheduled to proceed in Quebec’s Superior Court on November 15, 2017.

We will continue to monitor this case and keep you updated.

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