English Montreal School Board fights Quebec over Bill 21 in Court of Appeal – Montreal

The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) once opposed the fight against the Quebec government in court for the right to hire teachers who wear religious symbols.

Monday marked the last chapter in a long legal battle over Bill 21, the Legault government’s bill on secularism.

“Every day that this bill is in effect, essentially our students are losers and they miss it, and it is irreparable harm,” said Joe Ortona, president of the English Montreal School Board.

Bill 21 is Quebec law prohibiting public employees such as teachers, judges and police from wearing religious symbols at work.

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Quebec court upholds most provincial secularism laws and exempts English-language school boards

In April, the EMSB celebrated the ruling of a Quebec Superior Court judge who concluded that parts of the law could not apply to English schools because of their special constitutional rights.

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“This is a discriminatory law and it violates our management and control rights under section 23. It prevents us from hiring and promoting teachers who wear religious symbols,” Ortona explained.

As soon as that decision was rendered in April, however, Quebec immediately announced its intention to appeal.

On Monday, the council argued in the Court of Appeals that it should be able to hire staff wearing religious symbols while the government appeals.

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“The appeal is expected to be heard in April of next year, and as to when we’re going to make a decision on it, it’s impossible to know,” Ortona said.

Lawyers for the province told Judge Frédéric Bachand that there was no evidence that the bill has had a negative impact since its passage more than two years ago.

EMSB lawyers responded that six teachers have already been denied employment because of the religious symbols they wear. The EMSB cited a study that found having teachers from a variety of backgrounds can help improve the academic performance of visible minority students.

Quebec lawyers tried to argue against the relevance of the research. The government’s legal team declined to comment on the case as they left court.

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“We value tolerance, diversity, acceptance, multiculturalism and children’s exposure to what we think is an asset,” Ortona said.

The judge will now take some time to consider the arguments of all parties and is expected to release his decision in the coming days.

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