Is There a Way to Change the Latest Court Ruling over Law 21?

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Hussein Hoballah, Montreal

These are new times for our community, following Quebec’s Supreme Court ruling over the constitutionality of Law 21. What’s coming might be completely different from what’s been. Accordingly, we need to examine the articles of the ruling and how they might affect our reality. Then we can decide how to move on, how to plan for our children’s future, and how to shield them against challenges. After all, our community’s disappointment with the ruling ought to prompt harder work, not despair or submission. 

Oddly, both the supporters and opposers of Law 21 have expressed “disappointment” with Judge Marc André Blanchard’s verdict last Tuesday.

Speaking to “Sada al-Mashrek”, a number of prominent community figures have expressed dissatisfaction with Quebec’s Supreme Court’s “disappointing, discriminatory and incongruous” ruling.

The ruling indeed seems disappointing to our community; above all, it has given power to Quebec’s government to restrict the religious symbols worn by public servants as teachers, police officers and prosecutors.

Simultaneously, the ruling has divided citizens into two groups. The English schools have been excluded from the law, and their teachers can still wear hijaab while on duty. In contrast, the other schools are asked to abide by the law, ban on-duty teachers from wearing hijaab, and resort to court if the teachers refuse to take off their hijaab!

The verdict is disappointing because it targets Muslim women in specific, overlooking the obstructions it will bring about to hundreds of women and their children. The women will be forced to quit their jobs after they’ve made big efforts to qualify for them. Besides, it might be difficult for those women to get different jobs or qualify for other vocations because that might compromise their personal lives and their families’. Such an aftermath will impoverish many families, causing social crises in Quebec, which are unwanted, especially in time of the pandemic.

There is yet another reason why the ruling is disappointing. The judicial system supposed to be the final resort for women seeking justice has not done them justice. Instead, the system has exposed them to prohibition from exercising one of their basic rights: wearing what they chose to fulfil their convictions.

As francophones make the majority of our community, they, too, have been unpleased by the court ruling. Whereas Legault and his party are fighting hard to reinforce French, the ruling is now inadvertently diverting the Muslim community off to the English schools, where their daughters and sons can study or work. That is going to weaken French, contrary to the aspirations of Legault and CAQ.

Quite ironically, Legault himself has expressed dissatisfaction with the ruling, saying soon after the court announcement, “The ruling has disappointed me. I find it irrational.” Legault as well “can’t understand why the judge thinks that EMSB’s Anglophones might have values that differ from the rest of Quebeckers’.”

The verdict is divisive, even very discriminatory, but Legault still wants further impact. Citing the exercising of secularism, he wants the verdict to suffocate the citizens seeking to observe their duties. As such, he’s stepping on whatever freedom and human rights mean and promoting an unjust, coercive law. Hundreds of citizens of different faiths, not just Muslims, are now targeted by the law that Legault wants to subject all to.

What harm could it bring Mr Legault and his fan club to see a Muslim woman with hijaab, a Christian with cross, a Jew with kippah or a Sikh with turban? Legault’s extreme stances can only be interpreted in one way: it’s not about the secularism they’ve come up with, but about hating all different religions.

Not only do Legault’s stances violate freedoms, but also they will hit Muslim women hard, both socially and financially. They will be left with no jobs once they insist on exercising their right to lead the life they choose, contrary to the life that CAQ wants to impose on them.

It is noteworthy, though, that Legault’s opinion matches the public’s that’s been pushed to see things and the others negatively over the years because of conspiring, inflammatory propaganda. Muslim women, in particular, have been depicted as if of no choice, and Muslims have been pictured as uncultivated and uncivilised.

Hereupon, our community ought to tackle great responsibilities to deal with the aftermath of the court ruling. Everyone is invited to take action to change the prevailing stereotypes. Although that might take years, continuous and coordinated work will do the job of resorting to court and of socialising better with the Quebeckers to make them see the facts that have been concealed. To get an even better outcome, we ought to affiliate and coordinate with the non-Muslims affected by the verdict.

According to Judge Blanchard’s statement, Quebec’s Muslims make a quarter million. Jews, Sikh and Christians make hundreds of thousands. All have been banned from observing their religious teachings, which never compromise others’ rights.

“Things might change if we stand by each other against Law 21. But we’ll need to continue the fight against this unjust law in court, and we mustn’t give up,” said prominent figures to “Sada al-Mashrek” following the verdict. It is crucial that we make our numbers matter by coordinating and joining forces, seeking the best for all, and resolving conflicts obstructing our way. To overcome these dangerous and fragile times and regain our rights, we must work hand in hand. Late Senator Marcel Prud'homme once advised visitors from our community to “come together to make officials aware of your requests; they’ won’t if you’re not allied.”