Quebec’s Deputy Premier says citizens who see municipalities or school boards failing to apply the province’s proposed secular dress code can call the police to have the law enforced.
Provincial Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault told reporters at the Quebec National Assembly that it is the job of the police to enforce the law, and the province’s proposed ban on wearing religious symbols in some public service jobs would be no different. “The law is the law,” Ms. Guilbault said. “People can advise police services, like they do to have any other law applied. The law is the law.” She later clarified that she is confident officials will obey the law.
Several Montreal-area municipalities and school boards say they would not enforce a ban on religiously symbolic garments such as the turban, kippa, hijab and crucifix from being worn by people in positions of authority, including teachers and police officers.
The brewing resistance led to questions on Tuesday about how the government could enforce the law, which would contain no punitive measures. The Public Security Minister, the Justice Minister and Premier François Legault each gave different answers.
Early in the day, Justice Minister Sonia LeBel said if a school board or city refuses to enforce the law, the province could obtain a court injunction to force compliance. Disobeying an injunction could lead to contempt of court charges, she said, while stressing this is not her preferred avenue. “I’m very confident once the law is adopted, the mayors and school board commissioners … I’m confident there will be no civil disobedience,” she said.
Mr. Legault later told reporters some of his rookie cabinet ministers were getting carried away answering hypothetical questions. “We hope we won’t have to take steps to force people to respect the law. I won’t say what those steps could be,” Mr. Legault said. “We shouldn’t be talking about that. Quebeckers know there are means to force respect for the law.”
The CAQ’s law would require civil servants to deliver services with faces uncovered, and citizens to uncover for identification purposes. It also invokes the notwithstanding clause, a provision that would protect it from most avenues of legal challenge.
Most of the people who would be affected are Muslim teachers who wear headscarves. The English Montreal School Board was among the first public organizations to say it would not abide by the law. Other boards and several municipalities, particularly on the west side of Montreal Island, where anglophones and immigrant communities predominate, joined in.
Quebec human-rights lawyer Julius Grey added fuel on Tuesday in an article published in the Montreal Gazette that said school boards and municipalities could use civil disobedience to fight laws that run contrary to conscience.
Mr. Grey mentioned as examples the Canadian jurors who refused to apply abortion laws, and Americans who resisted the Vietnam War and segregation. Many people saw Mr. Grey’s words as advocating civil disobedience and as comparing the dress code to segregation and war, provoking the government reaction.
In an interview later on Tuesday, Mr. Grey said he was simply explaining the legal background to civil disobedience, and it is too early to advocate such acts. However, conscience may be the last defence, he said. “If the government hadn’t moved to cut off court contestations, everyone would just be saying, ‘We’ll see you in court,’” Mr. Grey said. “When there is no other remedy, disobedience in certain, strict conditions is justified. But it has to be proportionate, has to be fair.”
The government will hold hearings on the draft law in mid-May and try to pass it by June 15.