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Complaint says Quebec chief justice biased in Bill 21 case, should step aside

Members of the National Council of Muslims Mustafa Farooq, centre, and Bochra Manai, left, alongside supporters leave the Quebec Court of Appeal in Montreal, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019, where they are challenging Quebec's Bill 21. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL — Quebec’s top judge is facing an accusation of bias and a call to withdraw from a case she is hearing challenging the province’s secularism law, known as Bill 21.

A junior college history teacher says today Chief Justice Nicole Duval Hesler should recuse herself from the case, and he has asked the Canadian Judicial Council to investigate her behaviour and public statements in connection with the law.

Frederic Bastien of Montreal’s Dawson College says Duval Hesler acted inappropriately during Quebec Court of Appeal hearings into Bill 21, including last week when she declared herself a feminist and suggested opposition to the province’s secularism law resulted from “visual allergies” to seeing women in a hijab.

Bill 21 prohibits some public sector workers, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols at work.

Duval Hesler is one of three judges hearing the appeal brought by a national Muslim organization, a civil liberties group and a university student who wears the hijab, seeking to have the central components of the law suspended while their full legal challenge is heard.

The chief justice’s actions have drawn divided reactions from legal academics, with some defending her and others saying her comments went too far.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 2, 2019.

The Canadian Press