The Montreal English School Board (EMSB) once opposed fighting the Quebec government in court for the right to hire teachers who wear religious symbols.
Monday marked the latest chapter in a lengthy legal battle over Bill 21, the Legault government’s secularism bill.
“Every day this bill is in effect, essentially our students are getting lost and lost, and that is irreparable damage,” said Joe Ortona, president of the English Montreal School Board.
Bill 21 is Quebec law that prohibits public employees such as teachers, judges, and police officers from wearing religious symbols at work.
Quebec court ratifies most of the province’s secular law and exempts English school boards
In April, EMSB celebrated the ruling of a Quebec superior court judge who found that parts of the law could not apply to English schools because of their special constitutional rights.
“It is discriminatory legislation and violates our rights to manage and control section 23. It prevents us from hiring and promoting teachers who wear religious symbols,” Ortona explained.
However, as soon as that ruling was issued in April, Quebec immediately announced plans to appeal.
On Monday, the board argued in the Court of Appeals that it should be able to hire staff wearing religious symbols while the government appeals.
Muslim and civil liberties groups to appeal Quebec court ruling on secularism law
“The appeal is expected to be heard in April next year, and as to when we are going to make a decision on it, it is impossible to know,” Ortona said.
Lawyers for the province told Judge Frédéric Bachand that there is no evidence that the bill has had a negative impact since it was passed more than two years ago.
EMSB attorneys responded that six teachers have already been denied employment due to the religious symbols they wear. EMSB cited a study that found that having teachers from diverse backgrounds can help improve academic achievement among visible minority students.
The Quebec lawyers tried to argue against the relevance of the investigation. The government legal team declined to comment on the case when they left court.
“We value tolerance, diversity, acceptance, multiculturalism and exposing children to what we believe to be an asset,” Ortona said.
The judge will now take time to study the arguments of all parties and should make his decision public in the next few days.
Trudeau vows to fight Islamophobia, critics say to start Quebec’s C-21 bill
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.