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Commitment to religious equality

Proposed resolutions would denounce Quebec's secular bill and any other government policy that would deny equal opportunities within the legal profession based on a person's religion.

Religious symbols

"As lawyers, we share a collective responsibility to defend fundamental human rights in Canada," says Derek Ross, of the Christian Legal Fellowship and the mover of the resolution. Ross is moving two resolutions at the CBA's upcoming annual general meeting, that would affirm the association's commitment to religious equality and diversity.

The first would have the CBA urge all government actors and regulatory bodies to protect religious freedom and religious equality in a manner consistent with our constitution, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as human rights legislation.

Since the ruling Coalition Avenir Quebec government enacted Bill 21, An Act respecting the laicity of the State, new hires among public workers in positions of coercive authority are prohibited from wearing religious symbols. The ban applies to public employees who carry a weapon, including police officers and courthouse constables, as well as to Crown prosecutors, government lawyers, and judges (and in the educational field, school principals and teachers).

In the text of the law, the government invoked the notwithstanding clause to counter any legal challenges based on Charter rights.

"Of the current issues we are facing, it's difficult to think of a greater challenge to that mandate than a law which imposes a religious test for public sector lawyers (and other workers)," says Ross. "That is the effect of Quebec's Bill 21. Our legal colleagues now face barriers to public employment in Quebec based solely on their religious identity.”

Seconding the resolution is Nour Farhat, a Montreal lawyer who is directly impacted by the law and has provided a statement in support of the resolution. She has explained how, as an openly Muslim lawyer, she is now unable to "work as a lawyer in any Quebec ministry, legal aid office, or the clerk's office of a municipal court."

"This has prevented her from pursuing her life-long goal of working as a public prosecutor," says Ross. "If our profession won't stand with Nour and other lawyers in her position, who will?"

Ross adds that religious discrimination is a problem that extends beyond Bill 21. "A poll conducted last year suggests that at least one-third of those in other provinces would support similar legislation," he says. "Any sentiment that demotes or devalues a person's ability to contribute to society based solely on their religion needs to be carefully guarded against, and that starts with our profession."

The second resolution put forward would have the CBA update all internal bylaws and policies to explicitly include religion in any list of enumerated grounds pertaining to equality, diversity or inclusion.

For more on the first and second resolutions, respectively, and to share your views on the proposed resolution, please visit our discussion board here and here.