TWO APPROACHES TO FREEDOM OF RELIGION IN CANADA

The Quebec Court of Appeal rendered judgement in March on an Act respecting the laicity of the State, commonly referred to as Bill 21. The complexity of the case before the Court cannot be overstated. Opponents of Bill 21 did a thorough job in challenging the legislation, but with one exception – the right of elected members of the National Assembly to wear religious symbols – none of the arguments succeeded.

The purpose of Bill 21 is reflected in the Act’s preamble, “to determine the principles according to which and manner in which relations between the State and religions are to be governed in Québec.”

This is an extraordinary statement by the National Assembly.  Constitutionalists will argue that these principles are enshrined in the fundamental freedoms enumerated in section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the attending jurisprudence handed down over the years by the Supreme Court of Canada.  Others will argue, again in the words of the Act’s preamble, that “the Québec nation has its own characteristics, one of which is its civil law tradition, distinct social values and a specific history that have led it to develop a particular attachment to State laicity.”

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