BILL 21 IS A VIOLATION OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO EQUALITY

Montréal, April 21, 2022 The Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ) and the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) are going to the Court of Appeal of Quebec to demand recognition that Bill 21 infringes gender equality. LEAF and the FFQ recently submitted our intervention factum (in French only) to the Court of Appeal in the case of Hak et al. c. Procureur général du Québec (Hak et al.). Hak et al. is about the constitutionality of Bill 21, or the Act respecting the laicity of the State. In our factum, we urge the Court of Appeal to recognize that Bill 21 infringes the gender equality right set out in section 28 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  

Among other things, Bill 21 prohibits people working in designated public institutions (including schools) from wearing religious symbols in their workplace and from covering their face in the exercise of their functions. The law has had significant discriminatory impacts on Muslim women in Quebec who wear a hijab or a niqab. 

Section 28 of the Canadian Charter states that the rights and freedoms contained in the Charter are guaranteed equally to people of all genders. In our factum, we propose, for the first time, a framework to use to determine whether section 28 has been infringed. We hope that with this case, the Court will interpret section 28 according to its purpose, which is to guarantee substantive gender equality.  

The judge at the trial level in Hak et al. concluded that women’s freedom of expression, their freedom of religion, and their equality rights are all disproportionately impacted by Bill 21 as compared to men’s constitutional rights. For this reason, we argue, Bill 21 should be declared unconstitutional for violating section 28 of the Canadian Charter

“The Court must adopt an intersectional approach: the women who are the most affected by Bill 21 are Muslim women who wear a hijab or a niqab. It’s this intersection of identities that makes a combination of constitutional rights all come into play together – in this case, gender equality rights, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion.” 
Mélanie Ederer, President of FFQ 

“When a law disproportionately impacts the enjoyment of one gender’s rights and freedoms more than another’s, that law should be declared unconstitutional. In Hak et al., this means that the Court of Appeal should use section 28 to invalidate Bill 21, because Bill 21 discriminates against women.”
Nathalie Léger, spokesperson for this intervention and member of LEAF 

Download LEAF and FFQ’s factum here (in French only). 

LEAF and the FFQ are grateful to their counsel at Langlois Avocats, Geneviève Claveau, Sean Griffin, Lana Rackovic, Véronique Roy, and Fady Toban, 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, Dolores Chew, Samaa Elibyari, Nancy Labonté, Laïty Ndiaye, Samira Laouni, Colleen Sheppard, and Sandra Wesley. 

About the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)  
The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) is a national not-for-profit that works to advance the equality of women, girls, and all people who experience gender-based discrimination in Canada through litigation, law reform, and public legal education. Since 1985, LEAF has intervened in more than 100 cases that have helped shape the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that have responded to violence against women and gender-diverse people, pushed back against discrimination in the workplace, allowed access to reproductive freedoms, and provided improved maternity benefits, spousal support, and the right to pay equity. To find out more, visit www.leaf.ca.   

About the Fédération des Femmes du Québec (FFQ)  
The Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ) is an independent feminist organization that works, in solidarity and in alliance with other groups, to transform the social relations of sex in all human activities in order to promote the development of full autonomy of women and genuine recognition of all their contributions to society. To find out more, visit www.ffq.qc.ca

For media commentary, please contact:  
Nathalie Léger 
Spokesperson for LEAF and FFQ’s joint intervention  
Phone: 514-218-7768  
Email: [email protected]