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Groups seek leave to appeal Quebec's religious-symbols law to Supreme Court

Two women wearing a hijabs wait in the lobby of the Quebec Court of Appeal in Montreal, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. The Quebec Court of Appeal has rejected a request to suspend the central elements of the province's secularism law. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL — Groups challenging Quebec’s secularism law say they are seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Plaintiffs in the highly publicized case said Wednesday they have sent notice of their intention to the country’s highest court.

The Quebec Court of Appeal last week rejected a bid by a national Muslim organization, a civil liberties group and a university student who wears the hijab to have the central elements of the law suspended while their full legal challenge is heard.

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

In a 2-1 ruling on Dec. 12, the Appeal Court acknowledged Bill 21 was causing harm that may be serious and irreparable but said the inclusion of the notwithstanding clause meant it should not be suspended.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ notwithstanding clause allows governments to shield legislation against court challenges for the violation of fundamental rights and freedoms.

“We told Quebecers and Canadians that we would not stop our work until this unjust law has been defeated,” Mustafa Farooq, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said in a statement.

“Respectfully, we believe that there are errors of law in the majority decision. Therefore, we will do what we promised. While teachers and other public sector workers are being forced out of their jobs, we will seek leave from the (Supreme Court) to halt the serious and irreparable harm that Bill 21 causes.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 18, 2019.

The Canadian Press