Montréal, November 8, 2022 – From the 7th to the 10th of November, the Quebec Court of Appeal will hear submissions in the case of Hak et al. c. Procureur général du Québec (Hak et al.). LEAF-FAEJ Women’s Legal Education & Action Fund and the Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ) will be there to demand recognition that Bill 21 is unconstitutional because it infringes on the fundamental right of gender equality under section 28 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 28 states that the rights and freedoms contained in the Charter are guaranteed equally to people of all genders.

Bill 21 – or the Act respecting the laicity of the State – prohibits, among other things, people working in designated public institutions from wearing religious symbols in their workplace and from covering their face in the exercise of their functions. The law has had disproportionate discriminatory impacts on Muslim women in Quebec who wear a hijab or a niqab. As feminist organizations, we will emphasize the intersectional approach must be taken when interpreting section 28 of the Charter.

“Under Bill 21, the intersection of grounds of discrimination – sex and religion –  has consequences for Muslim women who wear a hijab or niqab, consequences which do not, by definition, impact men or other distinct groups of women. Unless courts adopt an intersectional approach, they will not be able to adequately address violations of the right to gender equality that impact women in Quebec!” – Mélanie Ederer, President of the FFQ

At the hearing, LEAF and the FFQ will present to the Court, for the first time, an analytical framework to use to determine whether section 28 has been infringed. We argue that  if the Court applied this framework, the Court would conclude that Bill 21 infringes on  the right to gender equality under section 28. 

“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 

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. 

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Download LEAF and FFQ’s factum here

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Ariane Aubin-Cadot
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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, trans, and non-binary people in Canada through litigation, law reform, and public legal education. Since 1985, LEAF has intervened in more than 130 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