Legault criticizes Liberals and QS for opposing notwithstanding clause

By 83 votes to 26, the National Assembly renewed use of the controversial clause to protect Quebec’s secularism law, Bill 21, from court challenges for five more years.

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QUEBEC – Prime Minister François Legault accused two opposition parties of condoning the loss of powers of the National Assembly by voting against the renewal of the exception clause of the Constitution to protect the state secularism law, the Draft Law 21, on judicial challenges.

Legault also said the FAE teachers union is showing “poor judgment” by joining a Supreme Court challenge to Bill 21 because the union dues it will use to fund the case are tax deductible, meaning ” “It’s Quebecers’ money” at stake.

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“There are now two sides (in the National Assembly),” Legault told reporters at a news conference Thursday. “On one side is the nationalist camp that defends the autonomy of Quebec, which is the Coalition Avenir Québec and the Parti Québécois.

“And on the other side we now have the side in favor of abandoning the powers of Quebec: the liberals and Québec solidaire. “My government will always defend the Quebec nation and the autonomy of the National Assembly.”

Legault made the comments after leaving a morning session of the legislature in which the government voted on Bill 52, which renews the use of the notwithstanding clause to override fundamental rights and thus protects Bill 21. of judicial challenges.

The vote was 83 in favor and 26 against. All CAQ MNAs present voted in favor, as did the four PQ MNAs. The liberal and supportive Quebec MPs present opposed it.

The vote means that Bill 52, “An act that will allow the parliament of Quebec to preserve the principle of parliamentary sovereignty with respect to the law respecting the secularism of the State,” is now law. It comes into force on June 16, the date on which the old clause will expire.

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The renewal is valid for five years, meaning that clauses in Bill 21 that prohibit public servants in positions of authority (teachers, judges, police officers) from wearing religious symbols will remain protected from court challenges until 2029.

Legault defended the renewal.

“The Quebec government has used the parliamentary sovereignty clause, called the notwithstanding clause, to protect Quebec’s ability to make its own decisions,” he said. “The notwithstanding clause is an essential instrument to preserve Quebec’s autonomy.”

Speaking before the bill was passed, Secularism Minister Jean-François Roberge described the law as a “fundamental step forward for the government, but also for all Quebecers.”

“It is a vector of social cohesion,” he stated. “It really separates the state from religion by guaranteeing the neutrality of the state.”

The Liberals and QS disagreed.

André Albert Morin, a critic of liberal secularism, stressed that his party is not opposed to the notwithstanding clause as such, noting that liberal governments have used it many times in the past.

What liberals object to, he said, is that the government uses it to cover so many radical clauses without demonstrating the urgency of doing so.

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“Access to justice is a fundamental right of citizens in a free and democratic society,” Morin said. “That doesn’t mean everyone is going to win. There will be a winner and a loser. But we cannot eliminate people’s right to legitimately go to court to challenge a law.”

QS critic Guillaume Cliche-Rivard said that by using the clause the government is removing itself from the authority of the courts. He said QS is not opposed to the concept of state secularism, but draws a line when it comes to banning religious symbols for public employees, especially considering the urgent need for workers.

QS also objected to the fact that the clause overrides the charters of rights and freedoms of Quebec and Canada.

Thursday’s comments reflected the division visible last month when Roberge held a day of hearings on House Bill 52.

The use of the notwithstanding clause has not stopped some groups from bringing legal challenges to Bill 21.

This week, the The Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE) announced that it will join the Montreal English School Board to take on its challenge of Supreme Court of Canada Bill 21.

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The Liberals also took issue Thursday with Legault accusing them of betraying Quebec’s interests by voting against Bill 52.

In a media call after the premier’s remarks, furious interim Liberal leader Marc Tanguay said Legault is “insulting the intelligence” of Quebecers by claiming that because his party opposed a law, is taking away the rights of the National Assembly.

“(Legault) is completely out of control,” Tanguay said. “He is lying. The Liberal Party’s vote is a vote in favor of respecting the right of each and every person to present a petition, to go to court to check if a law is valid.

“With François Legault, when you are not in favor of what he proposes, you are against Quebecers, you are not a true Quebecer,” he added. “I don’t want to live in a Quebec where citizens who want to resort to the justice system end up in jail and are told: ‘Don’t get involved in this because that’s how dad François Legault wants it.’ “

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