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Bloc Leader Dismisses Ontario's Anti-Bill 21 Motion As 'Bravado'

The motion was passed with the support of Doug Ford's government.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet holds a news conference on Parliament Hill on Nov. 20, 2019.
Fred Chartrand/CP
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet holds a news conference on Parliament Hill on Nov. 20, 2019.

OTTAWA — Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet called the Ontario legislature’s passage of a motion condemning Quebec’s secularism law an unjustified flash of “bravado.”

Blachet said in a statement Tuesday that Quebecers, just like Ontarians, have the right to democratically support policies related to secularism.

“Absolutely nothing justifies this bravado from the Ontario legislature against a Quebec law,” the federal leader said in French. Quebec chooses its own laws, Blanchet said, and suggested Ontario politicians mind their own business.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath introduced the non-binding motion Monday. It proposed that Premier Doug Ford’s government ask Quebec to repeal its “discriminatory” secularism law, also known as Bill 21.

Watch: Blanchet says Bill 21 isn’t a polarizing issue in Quebec during federal leaders’ debate. Story continues below video.

“If this bill and its undermining of human rights and religious freedoms goes unchecked, it sets a dangerous precedent that puts the rights and freedoms of Ontarians and all Canadians at risk,” the Hamilton Centre MPP said in the legislature.

Horwath’s motion received support from Ontario Progressive Conservatives. The premier was not present during the legislative vote.

Under Quebec’s secularism law, public sector workers in positions of authority, such as judges, police officers, and teachers, are banned from wearing religious symbols in the workplace. These symbols include hijabs, turbans, and crosses.

Bill 21 came into force in June after the Coalition Avenir Québec government invoked the notwithstanding clause to ensure its passage.

The clause is a section of the Charter of Rights and Freedom that allows Parliament or provincial legislatures to override portions of the charter for a five-year period. The CAQ’s move is intended to shield the controversial law from immediate legal challenges that it may violate Charter rights.

Legal cases against the law, under a different provision, are currently being heard at the provincial level.

Quebec’s Court of Appeal heard a new legal argument Wednesday with applicants arguing the law disproportionately impacts women more than men. Since the bill came into effect over the summer, female teachers who wear headscarves have had their job prospects diminish, argued lawyer Olga Redko, who is representing a national Muslim organization, a civil liberties group and a university student who wears an Islamic head scarf.

Ford is set to meet with Quebec Premier François Legault in Montreal Friday. Passed ahead of that meeting, Horwath’s motion also called on the Ontario government to commit to intervening in the case if it lands in front of the Supreme Court.

Legault previously warned federal and provincial leaders to stay out of Quebec’s internal policies and its authority to implement Bill 21, when it became a topic of debate during the election.

Despite members of his own Progressive Conservative party supporting the motion calling on the government to “communicate its opposition” to Bill 21, Ford is seemingly focused on other issues.

Sources told Radio-Canada that Ford has no intention to ask his Quebec counterpart to repeal the province’s secularism law and will instead focus on less contentious topics of conversation.

With files from The Canadian Press

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