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English Montreal School Board votes to launch Bill 21 court challenge

MONTREAL — The English Montreal School Board has voted in favour of challenging Quebec’s religious symbols legislation in court.

The board’s commissioners voted Wednesday evening to hire a law firm to determine the “appropriate legal recourse” against the provincial government over the validity of the law known as Bill 21.

It will seek to mount a case invoking Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees minority language educational rights to English-speaking minorities in Quebec.

Despite the planned legal action, the board will continue to apply the law, as all other school boards across the province have done.

Bill 21, which came into effect in June, prohibits public servants deemed to be in positions of authority, including teachers, judges and police officers, from wearing religious symbols, such as turbans, kippas and hijabs.

There is a grandfather clause exempting those who were employed before the bill was tabled in the spring — as long as they stay in their current jobs.

The province’s largest French-language school board, the Commission scolaire de Montreal, has said it has dealt with five teachers affected by the law this year, four of whom agreed to remove their symbols while one did not.

The Coalition Avenir Quebec government has defended the secularism law, saying it enjoys strong support among Quebecers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2019.

The Canadian Press