Canada – Agency:
A Canadian judge upheld Quebec province’s ban on wearing religious symbols for public servants such as police and teachers.
But there is an exemption to the law.
The judge ruled the Quebec government cannot enforce Bill 21 in English schools because it contravenes the minority language education rights.
Quebec has two school systems — French and English language, and French is the province’s official language.
Judge Marc-Andre Blanchard said in his 240-page ruling that the Quebec government could restrict religious symbols like the Muslim hijab, Sikh turban, Jewish kippa and Christian cross if worn by civil servants while they serve the public.
It affects jobs such as teachers, nurses, bus drivers, prison guards and police.
He also ruled that elected members of Quebec’s National Assembly do not have to remove face coverings like the niqab.
Bill 21 became law in 2019 and was challenged in court by Muslim and civil liberty groups and Muslim women who argued that it targeted Muslim women who had to choose between religion and their vocations.
The Quebec government said the law was necessary to uphold the province’s secularism — a distinct separation between state and religion.
The judge said parts of the bill “violate Article 23 of the Canadian Charter, as interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada, which provides guarantees for public educational institutions for linguistic minorities.”
In other words, the ban was struck down for minority English language schools but not the majority French schools.
The English Montreal School Board said in a statement that it was pleased with the ruling because it upheld diversity for staff and students.
“This legislation runs contrary to what we teach and to the culture of respect for individual rights and religious freedom within English-language schools,” it said.
Most legal experts expect the ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, according to a report.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims tweeted it was reviewing the ruling.