A Canadian court destroyed part of a disputed Quebec law against public employees wearing religious symbols, removing boundaries for some teachers and provincial politicians but maintaining the ban for police officers, judges and other civil servants.
The 2019 law, which the Quebec government said was designed to preserve secularism in the predominantly French-speaking province, prohibits many civil servants, including police officers, from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs and turbans at work.
The law was challenged by several lawsuits that argued it was discriminatory and unconstitutional. Several Muslim women said they refused to teach jobs because they wore a headscarf or hijab.
Legal experts predict that the decision of Quebec’s supreme court will be appealed to Canada’s supreme court.
The law was passed by the ruling center-right coalition Avenir Quebec although other governments have been trying for years to impose such restrictions.
Canadian Justice Minister David Lametti said the federal government is reviewing the decision.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made it clear in 2019 that he was against the law, but has not mentioned it since. The case is sensitive for the ruling Liberals, as Quebec will be heavily criticized in an election expected later this year.
According to the verdict, the ban does not apply to teachers or administrators on Quebec’s minority English-language school boards, as they possess special rights to education under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“It means we can now hire any qualified teacher to work in our system regardless of whether they choose to wear a religious symbol,” said Joe Ortona, president of the English Montreal School Board. “We’re thrilled.”
The ban also exempts elected members of Quebec’s provincial parliament because “the charter gives everyone the right to run and vote,” said constitutional attorney Julius Gray.
A March 2021 Leger poll said a majority of Quebecers favor a public ban on wearing religious symbols.