EMSB submits brief on religious symbols bill
Despite not having a seat at the Quebec National Assembly hearings, the English Montreal School Board has submitted a brief to the provincial government in relation to Bill 21: An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State, Chair Angela Mancini has announced. The brief calls for educators to be exempted from Bill 21. It also maintains that the legislation if passed would contravene Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees Quebec’s English-speaking minority control over its education system.
The EMSB position reflects a resolution adopted unanimously on March 27, 2019 which calls at a minimum for the draft legislation to be amended to exempt public school teachers, staff and administrators.
“Bill 21 would prohibit our future primary and high school teachers, school principals and vice-principals from wearing religious symbols in the exercise of their functions, while limiting the career advancement of our current employees,” commented Commissioner Julian Feldman, who chairs the EMSB’s Human Resources Advisory Committee. “It sends a message of intolerance and exclusion to our students and their families and does not reflect the values of our founding legislation, our mission and values and those of the Quebec Education Program. The passage of Bill 21 would lead to disharmony and friction and is contrary to our societal goal of promoting our peaceful co-existence in a pluralistic Quebec.”
The EMSB maintains that Bill 21 is in violation of both the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. These Charters are meant to protect minority rights from the will of the majority. “In our opinion,” noted Mr. Feldman, “the Bill contravenes section 23 of the Canadian charter and our constitutional right to manage and control our education system.”
“The secular nature of our school system,” he added, “is guaranteed in the law, and is certainly not under threat from school employees who choose to wear religious symbols. There is no justification in discriminating based on individual expressions of religious belief or for the use of the notwithstanding clause.”
The EMSB’s opposition is not only based on abstract constitutional legal arguments, but the fact that Bill 21 will have a detrimental impact on the women and men and girls and boys who make up the community. If enacted, it will force individuals to choose between government employment and a desire to wear religious apparel. “Furthermore, the Bill would severely limit the opportunities for advancement and growth of current employees of the EMSB,” said Mr. Feldman. “Morale will suffer, and some will seek to transfer to the independent school system or move out of the province at a time when Quebec is facing a severe shortage of teachers.”
Ms. Mancini says that the EMSB disputes the underlying hypothesis of Bill 21, which is that the wearing of religious apparel by teachers equates with the dissemination of religious beliefs to their students. Teachers are professionals who know that they are required to place their own convictions aside in order to offer various perspectives in the classroom,” she said. “We are convinced that diversity strengthens our education system, provides role models for our young people and helps ensure our peaceful co-existence as Quebecers. By exempting public school teachers, staff and administrators from Bill 21 we will be better positioned to achieve these noble objectives to the benefit of all Quebecers.”
You can read the brief here.