Fate of Que­bec’s Bill 21 will be de­cided by the courts, not vot­ers

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION - Chan­tal Hébert

The Oct. 21 election had barely been called when the is­sue of Que­bec’s con­tentious sec­u­lar­ism leg­is­la­tion first sur­faced.

Since then, the law that for­bids po­lice of­fi­cers, prison guards, pro­vin­cial judges and pros­e­cu­tors as well as pub­lic school teach­ers to wear re­li­gious vest­ments or sym­bols at work has con­sumed more and more of the cam­paign con­ver­sa­tion.

One could be for­given to be­lieve that the ul­ti­mate fate of the con­tro­ver­sial Que­bec law hangs in the bal­ance of the Oct. 21 fed­eral vote.

As it hap­pens, it does not.

Re­gard­less of who leads the next fed­eral gov­ern­ment, the fate of Bill 21 will be de­cided in the courts, and not in the House of Com­mons.

Two dif­fer­ent chal­lenges are al­ready mak­ing their way through the Que­bec court sys­tem. There are likely more in the pipe­line.

The prov­ince’s Court of Ap­peal will soon rule on whether the ap­pli­ca­tion of the most con­tentious sec­tions of Bill 21 should be sus­pended un­til its con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity has been val­i­dated.

It is a vir­tual cer­tainty that at some point in time Bill 21 will end up on the top court docket. But as­sum­ing the top court is seized of the mat­ter over the ten­ure of the next fed­eral gov­ern­ment, odds are that Ot­tawa — un­der any party and notwith­stand­ing their cur­rent rhetoric — would jump into the fray.

Trudeau’s po­si­tion, that he will not rule out join­ing a chal­lenge against Bill 21, is only an out­lier when com­pared to Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer and the NDP’s Jag­meet Singh’s hand­soff stances.

In fact, the Lib­eral leader’s po­si­tion re­flects what has been stan­dard prac­tice not only for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment but also for its Que­bec coun­ter­part.

In the past, both lev­els of gov­ern­ment have in­ter­vened — as a mat­ter of course — in court chal­lenges that have re­volved around the ex­tent of their re­spec­tive con­sti­tu­tional ju­ris­dic­tions or that of Char­ter rights.

On that ba­sis, the Le­gault gov­ern­ment is cur­rently an in­ter­vener in sup­port of Bri­tish Columbia in the lat­ter’s at­tempt to have its au­thor­ity to limit the amount of fos­sil fuel that tran­sits through the prov­ince af­firmed, and in sup­port of var­i­ous Con­ser­va­tive pre­miers in the le­gal bat­tle they have waged against the fed­eral car­bon tax.

Given all that, Scheer’s cat­e­gor­i­cal as­ser­tion that a Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment would for­ever re­main on the side­lines of a Bill 21 chal­lenge has to be taken with a big grain of salt.

And Singh’s re­cent mus­ings about the pos­si­ble ne­ces­sity for an NDP fed­eral gov­ern­ment to join the bat­tle at the Supreme Court level are less a flip-flop than a be­lated at­tempt to re­align his po­si­tion with the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of any party in fed­eral power.

It would be quite a prece­dent for a fed­eral gov­ern­ment of any po­lit­i­cal stripe to de­cline to stand its con­sti­tu­tional ground in the top court.

When it comes to Bill 21, the Bloc Québé­cois along with Le­gault are mostly tilt­ing at wind­mills for po­lit­i­cal gain.

The law is pop­u­lar and there is po­ten­tial mileage to be had on Oct. 21 and be­yond by look­ing to be stand­ing up for Que­bec’s au­ton­omy. But to do so they are ap­ply­ing a dou­ble stan­dard.

They would have the next prime min­is­ter re­nounce a le­gal op­tion that no Que­bec premier would ever forego.

And they would be the first to ve­he­mently de­nounce the no­tion that the will of a pro­vin­cial ma­jor­ity should be the last word on the rights of mi­nori­ties if an­other prov­ince ap­plied that rule to French-lan­guage rights.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.