The National Association of Women and the Law reacts to appellate decision on “Bill 21”

1 March 2024
March 1, 2024

Yesterday, the Court of Appeal of Quebec rendered its decision on the Act respecting the laicity of the State, commonly known as Bill 21. Bill 21 was adopted with the preemptive invocation of the Charter’s notwithstanding clause, which the Quebec government intends to renew as we approach 5 years of the law being in force.

“NAWL is extremely disappointed in the Court of Appeal’s ruling that the law is in large part constitutional”, said Tiffany Butler, executive director of NAWL. “We hope the Supreme Court of Canada has the opportunity to consider an appeal of the case”, she added.

“Unlike sections 2(a) (freedom of religion) and 15 (equality rights), section 28 is not subject to the notwithstanding clause. By targeting Muslim women in their exercise of religious freedom, the law violates section 28, which guarantees equal Charter rights to men and women”, argued Suzanne Zaccour, NAWL’s Director of Legal Affairs.

“Section 28 was adopted precisely to block attempts by governments to use the notwithstanding clause to preserve unequal rights as between men and women”, explained Kerri Froc, member of NAWL’s steering committee. “Feminist advocates, including the women of the National Association of Women and the Law, worked tirelessly to ensure that section 28 would not be subject to the notwithstanding clause. The Court of Appeal’s interpretation negates the provision’s legislative history and empties section 28 of all its meaning and power to protect the rights of women, especially women from minority communities”, she added.

“The pre-emptive use of section 33 to insulate Bill 21 from constitutional scrutiny is a misuse of power against minority women. As a result, Bill 21 has had a devastating impact which has disproportionately affected Muslim women in Quebec. They have been stigmatized and subject to increased violence. And it’s specifically Muslim women who wear the hijab who have lost jobs or been denied opportunities because of Bill 21”, added Vrinda Narain, also a member of NAWL’s steering committee.

Founded in 1974, the National Association of Women and the Law celebrates this week 50 years of legal leadership to advance women’s rights in Canada. Today, as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations, NAWL will co-host, with the University of Ottawa’s Shirley Greenberg Chair for Women and the Legal Profession, a panel on Bill 21 and Section 28 of the Charter. The panel, which is open to the media, will take place in the Desmarais building, room 12102. Law Professors and members of NAWL’s Steering Committee Vrinda Narain and Kerri Froc, postdoctoral researcher Roshan Jahangeer and advocate Idil Issa will present on the panel moderated by Professor Natasha Bakht. “After five decades of advocacy, NAWL’s work to defend the rights of all women in Canada is as important as ever. Bills and laws in Canada should be subject to intersectional feminist scrutiny”, concluded Tiffany Butler, executive director of NAWL.

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about NAWL
The National Association of Women and the Law is a not-for-profit feminist organization that promotes the equality rights of women through legal education, research and law reform advocacy.
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