This case is about discrimination against women who wear religious symbols.

LEAF, in partnership with the Fédération des Femmes du Québec (FFQ), will intervene before the Quebec Court of Appeal.

Facts

Law 21, An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State, restricts the wearing of religious symbols in certain professions with the goal of affirming Québec as a secular state.

For example, women who wear hijabs can no longer be hired as teachers. Women who wear niqabs are prohibited from working in most parts of public administration. Further, women who wear niqabs cannot benefit from public services because the law requires that individuals who wish to receive public services must do so with their faces uncovered. 

The government, well aware that its law infringes equality rights, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion, pre-emptively used the override clause to prevent any constitutional challenges.

Arguments

LEAF and the FFQ will argue that the law infringes gender equality, in particular by discriminating against women who wear religious symbols.  

As interveners, LEAF and the FFQ will propose an analytical framework to the Court of Appeal that will allow for a little-known provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 28, to be used to its full potential. The organizations will argue that this provision ensures the protection of gender equality, even when a government chooses to use the override clause.

The section 28 gender equality guarantee was included in the Charter to ensure that women and gender-diverse people would have the same rights as men, and to ensure that the state could not engage in gender-based discrimination with impunity. In a case such as this one, where women are so clearly disproportionately harmed by the effect of a law, the gender equality guarantee steps in to declare the law unconstitutional.

Outcome

This case has not yet been heard by the Quebec Court of Appeal.

LEAF and the FFQ are grateful to their counsel, Véronique Roy, Lana Rackovic, Geneviève Claveau, Fady Toban, and Sean Griffin (Langlois Avocats), for their pro bono representation before the Court of Appeal.  

LEAF and the FFQ are also grateful to the members of the case committee that helped to shape this intervention: Natasha Bakht, Safa Ben Saad, Samaa Elibyari, Nancy Labonté, Laïty Ndiaye, Samira Laouni, and Colleen Sheppard.

See LEAF’s factum (translated from French) here.