How measures to contain COVID-19 may clash with Canadians’ Charter rights

With Canada facing a pandemic that puts the health of millions potentially at risk, and governments imposing stringent measures, questions are being raised about what role constitutional rights play in times of crisis, and whether governments have the manoeuvring room to protect society. Sean Fine looks at the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in dangerous times.

Q: What powers do governments have for this crisis?

A: Widespread quarantine powers, the ability to close borders, restrict the movement of goods and people, close buildings and even order individuals to seek treatment. New powers were developed after the SARS crisis of 2003 left provinces realizing they lacked the legal authority for health emergencies.

Q: Does Canada need the Charter at a time of such peril?

A: More than ever, constitutional scholars say, to ensure the country does not abandon its principles such as protection of the vulnerable. “The Charter is there to stop decisions that are entirely fear-based and speculative,” says Michael Bryant, chief executive officer of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and a former Ontario attorney-general. For instance, if a province attempted to quarantine Asian-Canadians or Asian visitors in the beginning stages, the move would have been vulnerable to a constitutional challenge, he said.

Q: How flexible is the Charter in taking a health emergency into account?

A: Section 1 can impose reasonable limits on fundamental freedoms. But it needs to justify those limits on the basis of evidence, if challenged in court. What’s reasonable depends on the context and situation, says University of Ottawa law professor Carissima Mathen. Also, Section 33, the notwithstanding clause, allows the government to opt out of fundamental freedoms. But the federal government has never invoked it.

Q: In what specific situations does the question of reasonable limits arise in the current emergency?

A: Bail hearings may be unavailable to accused persons, as most courts have closed many of their operations down, Mr. Bryant says. The Charter contains a right to timely bail, and federal law spells out how quickly such hearings need to be held. “In those circumstances I think they have to be released. They haven’t been convicted of a crime – there’s no legal authority to detain them.” He said he has been visiting jails and speaking to corrections officials and criminal defence lawyers to get a sense of what is happening to bail rights.

Q: What about Canadians who are symptomatic, and are now barred from entering Canada on an airplane, a decision of the federal government?

A: Section 6 of the Charter says, “Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.” The notwithstanding clause doesn’t apply to this section, underlining the importance of the right. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act also guarantees that same right not only to citizens but to permanent residents. The federal Quarantine Act contains measures that, on their face, are in conflict with the Charter and the IRPA, Mr. Bryant says. Thus, the CCLA has put the message out on social media for Canadians in this situation, or those trying to visit symptomatic Canadian relatives abroad, to contact them. “Right now it seems to be the area of constitutional vulnerability,” Mr. Bryant said. However, Prof. Mathen said, “there is at least an argument that if you’re actively showing symptoms of a highly contagious condition, any government probably has a reasonable basis for saying, ‘We cannot permit you to board an aircraft.’ ”

Q: What constitutional issues would there be with the emergency powers declared by Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Tuesday, such as limiting places of worship to gatherings of 50 people, or ordering restaurants closed?

A: If the worship limit were challenged in court, the government would likely have to show it’s a minimal intrusion on freedom of religion in the circumstances, Mr. Bryant said. On the closing of restaurants, Prof. Mathen said there is no right to earn money in the Charter, and no property rights, unlike in the U.S. Constitution. Only if the limits had the effect of starving people, she said, would they have a constitutional case under Section 7, the right to life, liberty and personal security.

Q: Can governments actually limit the right to life, liberty and security?

A: Only in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice, as Section 7 puts it. But no more than that, at least so far. Nothing the Supreme Court has ever found fundamentally unjust under Section 7 (such as a ban on medical assistance in dying) has ever been ruled a “reasonable” limit under Section 1. But the court has said that war, insurrection or disease could allow for such a possibility.

Q: What might the Charter (and the courts, if a challenge arrived) have to say about a citywide or even countrywide quarantine?

A: It would be seen as a sweeping move, and require a justification based on evidence of peril, perhaps including evidence that many people were not obeying social-distancing directives. “I’m not saying it would be impossible,” Prof. Mathen said. “I think the courts generally permit the government a fair bit of latitude to say, ‘In our judgment, this is the risk, and we need to be able to manage the risk.’ ” But it would be tricky. SOURCE

PRESS RELEASE: Criminal Climate Change Obstruction

PRESS RELEASE: County Sustainability Group, December 29, 2019

 

While the ‘Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ is designed to protect individuals from unconstitutional acts by the government,  the International Criminal Court prosecutes Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. The legal test for criminal liability is whether one knew or should have known that an action or lack of action resulted in criminal behaviour. This is the approach the youth are taking in cases coming before Canadian courts.

Since the United Nations Paris conference in late 2015, climate change indicators have risen sharply. The IPCC reports have issued scientific predictions warning political leaders of the catastrophic results of overshooting a 1.5 Celsius climate target. An unprecedented emergency response is imperative if we are to avoid global ecocide and eventual collapse.

We are in an unparalleled  climate emergency. It is criminal to fail to act immediately to reduce greenhouse gas emissions including methane and nitrous oxide.  It is criminal to promote the expansion of the tar sands ecocide and to build pipelines to export tar sands bitumen. It is criminal neglect to fail to set hard targets for compliance.

Solutions to climate change are well known and available.

The Parliament of Canada should immediately act to 

    • stop the tar sands ecocide expansion and stop building pipelines to export tar sands dilbit
    • remove all direct and indirect subsidies to fossil fuels, extractive industries, and cement production. 
    • introduce strict regulations to minimize greenhouse gasses 
    • establish a carbon tax regime with firm targets and timelines to keep emissions at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius
    • Redirect tax revenues to support renewable energy: offshore and onshore wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, and ocean power.
    • Invest in R&D for renewable development and climate mitigation 
    • Develop robust, smart power transmission corridors to electrify everything in the new green economy.  For example, building a transmission corridor between Onttario and Quebec would allow cheap, renewable energy from Quebec’s wind and hydro power surplus to flow to Ontario, saving billions, and allow the closure of Pickering Nuclear and cancellation of the Darlington expansion.

Climate criminals are thwarting action. Act to protect future generations.

-30 –


RELATED:

Canadian youth suing federal government over climate change

Image result for canadian youth climate protestA group of Canadian youth have officially filed a lawsuit against the federal government for what they say is the government’s contribution to “dangerous climate change.” Shutterstock

Kids facing effects of climate change are taking their governments to court

Besides protesting, youth are also increasingly in the courts, suing governments for their failure to preserve a healthy environment for future generations of children

A child holding a placard against climate change. Photo: Getty Images
 A child holding a placard against climate change. Photo: Getty Images

In November, more than 11,000 scientists declared that the climate emergency has arrived and drastic action is required. Frustrated by government failure to respond adequately, citizens are taking to the courts.

The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law reports at least 1,390 legal challenges to governments and fossil fuel corporations in more than 25 countries since 1990. These cases are forging a new legal discipline: climate change law.

At the head of the pack is the landmark case Urgenda vs. The Netherlands. In 2015, the district court of The Hague decided the government has a legal duty to strengthen its emissions reduction target for 2020.

The court of appeal reaffirmed the decision in October 2018. Although the case is on appeal to the Dutch Supreme Court with a final ruling due on Dec. 20, the case has already changed government policy.

In the past year, millions of children and teenagers around the world have crowded the streets to protest government inaction on the climate crisis. But youth are also increasingly in the courts, suing governments for their failure to preserve a healthy environment for current and future generations of children.

Youth challenges

In United States, the most prominent case, Juliana vs. United States, was filed in 2015. In it, 21 young people assert that the U.S. government, by aggravating climate change, has violated constitutional rights to life, liberty and property.

Plaintiffs Kelsey Juliana, right, and Vic Barrett, left, gather with other youth plaintiffs in the Juliana vs. United States climate change lawsuit in a federal courthouse for a hearing in June 2019. Robin Loznak/Pool Photo via AP

 

In Canada, two cases bring these issues home. A Québec case brought by ENvironnement JEUnesse (ENJEU) invoked the Constitution on behalf of all Québec residents aged 35 and under to hold the federal government accountable for environmental degradation.

The Québec Superior Court threw out the challenge by denying class-action status, stating that the group or “class” ENJEU sought to represent was arbitrary and inappropriate.

However, the court also found that the issues raised by the challenge were justiciable. This means that the claims of constitutional rights infringement are legally appropriate for courts to decide. This is an important judicial conclusion because courts will consider only questions that are proper in this manner for adjudication. Whether a question is “justiciable,” or subject to resolution in a court of law, is always a significant hurdle for litigation that raises complex, costly and political questions.

In October 2019, a second Canadian challenge was launched: La Rose vs. Her Majesty the Queen, filed in Federal Court. La Rose has 15 individual plaintiffs, which avoids the difficulties in the Québec case of certifying a diverse class.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg takes part in a climate strike march in Montréal on Sept. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes 

The differences among the young plaintiffs are legal strengths, demonstrating the range and scale of the impact that the climate crisis is having on on young people. The general claim, however, is the same as ENJEU: the federal government’s actions — and inactions — have fuelled climate change, putting Canadian children in peril and breaking the law.

The legal case of La Rose

The La Rose challenge rests on two legal bases: first, government obligations under Sections 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and, second, the government’s common law and constitutional responsibility to preserve common resources and lands.

Charter rights

Case law on the Charter rights is complex. Courts have turned the sparse language of constitutional text into lengthy, elaborate doctrine. But what counts in this case, with respect to the first legal basis, is simple.

Section 7 states:

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

The plaintiffs argue, in various ways, that climate change threatens their physical and psychological well-being and development and impedes their ability to make key personal decisions, thus compromising their life, liberty and security of person.

And the existential — or extreme — character of this threat is incompatible with any notion of fundamental justice. Or, in simpler language, furthering climate change’s threat to the survival of the human species is incompatible with the key commitments of our legal and political system.

Section 15 reads:

“Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

All the plaintiffs, by virtue of their youth, have pre-existing, distinct and intense vulnerability exacerbated by the government’s failure to address climate change. They argue that this amounts to discrimination on the basis of age.

The Indigenous plaintiffs, in addition, assert that they face race-based discrimination. So this challenge links climate change to Indigenous rights and colonialism. The details of the effect on Indigenous youth signal the central ways in which the health and culture of Indigenous Peoples and communities erode as ecosystems are destroyed and species vanish.

Permafrost thaw can cause large disruptions. (A. Cassidy,UBC Geography/flickr)CC BY 

None of these rights infringements can be, the plaintiffs argue, justified under Section 1 (the limitation clause) of the Charter. The plaintiffs also point out how Canada’s international human rights commitments oblige this expansion of Charter rights.

Public trust doctrine

The second legal basis rests on the claim that the public and common resources of Canada’s land, waters and air are the government’s responsibility, a duty imposed in common law and by the Constitution.

This trust-like relationship — captured by the public trust doctrine — requires Canadian governments to respond in a dynamic way to the changing threats of the climate crisis in order to protect and preserve these resources for all Canadians now and into the future.

According to this challenge, the government has breached this duty by failing to act appropriately as climate change threatens “public trust resources,” including the water, air and permafrost that are destroyed by a warming planet.

La Rose sets out novel claims in the Canadian legal system, but these are claims increasingly common internationally. And the Canadian Supreme Court has stated that novel claims are how our Constitution stays relevant as Canadian society and the world evolve.

Whether this case succeeds or not — courts sometimes follow rather than lead — the persuasive message and public profile of this legal challenge strengthen a burgeoning political movement, promising significant enrichment to mainstream political debate. We are getting used to the idea that a healthy environment is a human right.

As the world gears up for the United Nations Climate Conference in Madrid, Spain this December, Canadian lawyers and the youth they represent are busy trying to ensure that the Canadian government walks its international climate action talk back home. SOURCE

 

 

Nova Scotia, B.C. groups pair up on court challenge to overturn Canada’s electoral system

A sign points voters to the polling station at St. James Anglican Church on Joseph Howe Drive in Halifax on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019.
A sign points voters to the polling station at St. James Anglican Church on Joseph Howe Drive in Halifax on federal election day, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. – Ryan Taplin

OTTAWA, Ont. — A Nova Scotia charitable organization wants the courts to force Canada to abandon its winner-take-all electoral system in favour of one that awards seats in Parliament according to the popular vote.

Halifax-based Springtide Collective and Fair Voting B.C. filed an action with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Toronto earlier this month arguing that Canada’s first-past-the-post system violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ guarantee of fair representation.

Springtide executive director Mark Coffin said the case has been in the works since 2017. By August of 2019 the groups had raised enough money to cover the costs of preparing a court application and securing expert testimony.

“This is a civil rights issue like any other civil rights issue. It’s always best when politicians take steps in lawmaking that would protect and enhance our civil rights, but when we don’t get that from our politicians, and in this case, when we see time and time again politicians really not enthusiastically supporting or championing reform to ensure that everybody’s votes count, it’s time for the courts to intervene,” Coffin said.

Coffin added there’s a pattern of behaviour where campaign on electoral reform, then back off when elected. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals promised that 2015 would be the last election under first-past-the-post, but abandoned the idea of electoral reform a year later.

The applicants hope the courts will now take the issue into their own hands.

The case alleges that Canada’s current electoral system does not comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as subsequent rulings on electoral issues, on multiple grounds. Specifically, the application argues that it violates section 3, by denying Canadians effective representation, meaningful participation, and fair and legitimate elections, and section 15, by discriminating against voters and candidates on the basis of political belief.

“The court has in past rulings decided that every Canadian has the right to effective representation and meaningful participation,” Coffin said. “For many Canadians based on their political beliefs, they’re denied effective representation and meaningful participation in the electoral process. . . .Effective representation in the courts means having a voice in the deliberations of government. When more than half of the people vote for candidates that don’t end up in parliament, they’re certainly not represented.”

This election makes the case, the groups argue: 51 per cent of voters cast ballots for candidates that did not end up in Parliament, there were a quarter-million more Conservative voters than Liberal voters but Liberals took 36 more seats than the Conservatives, and NDP voters outnumbered Bloc voters by two to one nationally, yet the NDP will hold fewer seats than the Bloc. Furthermore, they argue, the disproportionate representation of certain political beliefs are concentrated in different regions of the country in ways that are now adding fuel to the fire around national unity.

The two groups involved in the court challenge have hired experienced Toronto-based constitutional lawyer Nicolas Rouleau to represent them. They’re hoping the case will eventually find its way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

If the courts agree with the claims made in the case, they can go as far as to declare Canada’s current electoral system unconstitutional, and order the government to develop a system that complies with the Charter, the applicants say. SOURCE

Court to hear case on whether asylum agreement with U.S. violates charter

OTTAWA — A long-awaited legal look into whether the U.S. remains a safe country for refugees begins today at a Federal Court in Toronto.

At issue is the Safe Third Country Agreement that prohibits people from entering Canada from the U.S. —  and vice versa — at official border crossings and asking for asylum. It was signed by the two countries 17 years ago on the grounds that both are safe places and so those seeking sanctuary should apply in the first country they arrive in.

But as the U.S. has tightened its asylum rules and regulations in recent years, the deal has come under intense scrutiny over concerns that actions taken by the Trump administration no longer make the U.S. a safe harbour for those seeking asylum.

In turn, when Canada rejects people at the border, their charter rights are being violated, advocacy groups and the individual litigant in the case will argue this week as the Federal Court finally hears the challenge begun in 2017.

“Refugee claimants are being detained indefinitely, in conditions that are nothing short of cruel and unusual, simply for seeking protection,” reads one of the memos submitted to the court.

The legal challenge to the agreement was filed after a Salvadoran woman tried to enter Canada at an official border crossing to seek asylum, arguing she was being brutally targeted by gangs at home. She was told she was inadmissible because of the deal. MORE

Toronto court to hear case on whether asylum agreement with U.S. violates charter

Concerns with the Safe Third Country Agreement come as the U.S. tightens its asylum rules and regulations


A girl originally from Congo and her family who had been living in Portland, Maine, approach an unofficial border crossing with Canada, heading down Roxham Road in Champlain, N.Y., on Aug. 7, 2017. A long-awaited legal look into whether the U.S. remains a safe country for refugees begins Monday in Federal Court in Toronto. (Charles Krupa/The Associated Press)

A long-awaited legal look into whether the U.S. remains a safe country for refugees begins today at a Federal Court in Toronto.

At issue is the Safe Third Country Agreement, which prohibits people from entering Canada from the U.S. — and vice versa — at official border crossings and asking for asylum. It was signed by the two countries 17 years ago on the grounds both are safe places, so those seeking sanctuary should apply in the first country where they arrive.

But as the U.S. has tightened its asylum rules and regulations in recent years, the deal has come under scrutiny over concerns that actions taken by the Trump administration no longer make the U.S. a safe harbour for asylum seekers.

In turn, when Canada rejects people at the border, their charter rights are being violated, advocacy groups and the individual litigant in the case will argue this week as the Federal Court finally hears the challenge begun in 2017.

“Refugee claimants are being detained indefinitely, in conditions that are nothing short of cruel and unusual, simply for seeking protection,” reads one of the memos submitted to the court.

The legal challenge to the agreement was filed after a Salvadoran woman tried to enter Canada at an official border crossing to seek asylum, arguing she was being brutally targeted by gangs at home. She was told she was inadmissible because of the deal.

Her attempt to enter Canada came as then newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump was unveiling a series of changes to the immigration system, including an attempt to ban immigrants from Muslim countries and lifting stays on deportations to Central American nations.

The measures set off shock waves not just in the U.S., but also in Canada, even among those who don’t work in the immigration field, said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, one of the groups challenging the agreement in court.

“Many Canadians . . . instinctively felt it didn’t make sense for Canada to be hitching its wagon to the United States in this way and be sending people back to the U.S. when they could see there was such a lack of attention to the basic rights.”

Ottawa wants case dismissed

While political pressure began building for changes to the deal, the CCR and others also decided to test it in court and worked to find an asylum seeker who had been turned away.

Since the case was launched, restrictions on asylum have tightened even further, including a decision in 2018 by the U.S. attorney general to deny asylum claims based on domestic violence. One of the arguments in the case is that decision effectively leads to discrimination towards refugee applicants on the basis of their gender, which would violate the charter.

But the federal government argues that position, and others taken by the applicants, relate to developments in the U.S. refugee system that don’t apply in the case at hand. The U.S. system still functions, they argue, and the government wants the case dismissed.

“Claimants are returned to a highly developed asylum system that grants protection to large numbers of persons every year, and is subject to both administrative and judicial checks and balances,” lawyers for the Immigration and Public Safety ministries wrote in their submission to the Federal Court.

“Many of the concerns raised by the applicants have been limited by American courts or are still undergoing legal challenges, have no application to [Safe Third Country Agreement] returnees, and/or do not preclude access to protection.”

The applicants hope the court either suspends the deal or forces it to be amended in such a way that allows those seeking asylum to ask for it. MORE

RELATED:

15 Canadian youths to sue Ottawa for not acting on climate change

They say young people will be more affected than other groups


People hold signs as thousands gather outside Vancouver City Hall before marching downtown during a climate strike in Vancouver on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A group of young people from across the country are suing the Canadian government for not acting on climate change, according to the David Suzuki Foundation.

In a statement issued Wednesday morning, the foundation said the youths have each suffered “specific, individualized injuries due to climate change.”

The lawsuit, which is expected to be filed Friday in the Supreme Court of Canada, will allege Ottawa is violating their rights to life, liberty and security of person under section seven of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The youth will also claim the government’s actions violate section 15, which deals with equality, as they say young people are disproportionately affected by climate change.

They will be represented by Arvay Finlay LLP and Tollefson Law Corporation, and partner with the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation and the David Suzuki Foundation.

“The lawsuit calls on Canada to cease its conduct that is violating the youth’s Charter and public trust rights and prepare and implement a plan that reduces Canada’s GHG emissions in a manner consistent with what best available science indicates is needed for the federal government to protect young Canadians, do its fair share to stabilize the climate system, and avert the catastrophic consequences of climate change,” the foundation said in a statement.

The youth will also take part in a march and rally at the northern steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery Friday, coinciding with Greta Thunberg’s arrival and climate strike in the city.

SOURCE

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 Greta Thunberg to attend post-election climate strike in Vancouver
Students skip school, join climate strikes across B.C.

 

 

Quebec could face compensation claims for Bill 21 harms

It’s rare for a government to have to pay for a breach of Charter rights, but the door is open to it, and Bill 21 clearly violates those rights.

Image result for policy options: Quebec could face compensation claims for Bill 21 harms

Might a government owe financial compensation to the individuals it harms via use of the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Specifically, where a law harms fundamental rights and is effective only because the legislature invoked the notwithstanding clause, is it up to individuals alone to absorb those harms? On the contrary, I argue that a court might order a government to pay compensation or damages for the harms it causes.

The question arises most obviously in Quebec. In June, the Legault government in that province adopted Bill 21, An Act respecting the Laicity of the State. It shielded the law from direct challenges under much of the Canadian Charter by use of the notwithstanding clause (section 33). The law’s controversial measures include a ban on religious symbols worn by many categories of public employees. The law prevents visibly religious people from being hired as teachers, principals and government lawyers. Although there is a grandfather clause for employees who held those positions as of March 2019, it won’t cover them if they accept promotion or reassignment.

In my view, it’s open to individuals to seek an award of damages under the Charter’s remedies clause. Section 24(1) states simply that anyone whose Charter rights “have been infringed or denied may apply…to obtain such remedy as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances.”

Courts haven’t often ordered the government to pay compensation for breach of someone’s Charter rights, but the Supreme Court of Canada has unquestionably opened the door to doing so. Nearly a decade ago, in Ward, the Supreme Court set out the prevailing approach. In that case, an individual was mistakenly arrested because a police officer believed that he intended to throw a pie at the prime minister. Alan Cameron Ward was strip-searched in violation of his Charter right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. He ultimately obtained $5,000. The Court emphasized the potential for Charter remedies to include constitutional damages. In short, Ward tells us that there can be damages for violation of Charter rights. Bill 21 violates Charter rights. Might the harms from Bill 21 be compensable, too?

It’s critical here to understand the textual limits on a government’s use of the notwithstanding clause. Section 33 states: “Parliament or the legislature…may expressly declare…that [an] Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding…section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.” It goes on: “An Act or a provision…in respect of which a declaration made under this section is in effect, shall have such operation as it would have but for the provision of this Charter referred to.” The constitutional language is saying that the law being shielded will continue in force, but it says nothing about what judges may do.

We need to take care not to read restrictions into the text that aren’t there. As observed by Léonid Sirota, section 33 makes no mention of section 24, the remedies clause. That means a government cannot use the notwithstanding clause to shield a law from the remedies clause: it cannot legislate that a law will operate — with potentially harmful effects — notwithstanding the remedies clause. I see no reason for judges to give governments greater immunity from the Charter than its drafters did by developing such a rule themselves. MORE

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What Is Quebec’s Bill 21 & Why Does It Keep Coming Up In The Election Debates?

 

We asked 12 Canadian premiers about Quebec’s controversial secularism law


Asiyah Robinson said her hijab is not only a religious symbol but an inseparable part of her identity, during a council meeting in Victoria, B.C., July 11, 2019. Photo by Emilee Gilpin

Last week, Asiyah Robinson, a 22-year-old Muslim woman, presented an impassioned speech that woke the ghosts of an otherwise eerily stoic Victoria city council chambers. Robinson added her voice to a chorus of concerned Canadians speaking against a recent secularism bill passed into Quebec law.

If Robinson were a Quebec citizen, she couldn’t pursue a job as a teacher, lawyer, judge nor police officer while practicing her religion, wearing a hijab, as she has done since she was nine years old. A controversial new Quebec law — Bill 21: An Act respecting the secularity of the State — would prohibit her and any other public service employees in positions of authority who practiced their faith wearing a hijab, turban, kippa, cross and more from doing so, while delivering services to the public.

“First they strip you of your religion, then they take away your cultural practices, then they separate you from your community,” Robinson said. She called an attentive Victoria City Council to think back to the Quebec City mosque shooting. “On Jan. 29, 2017, there was a dreadful mass shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre. Six were killed … It was horrible and devastating.”

Robinson said the mosque shooting bears a chilling resemblance to the political movement in Quebec today.

“The shooting was done by one person, and thankfully, the bullets ran out… But to live in a country that proposes and promotes an institutional law that legalizes discrimination based on faith ensures a never-ending supply of ammunition that suppresses not only Muslim, but Canadian values,” Robinson said. “This will not only affect my generation but will ripple into generations to come.”

People gesture during a demonstration in Montreal, Sunday, April 7, 2019, in opposition to the Quebec government’s newly tabled Bill 21. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

 

As a city, Victoria doesn’t get much further from the province of Quebec, located on the west coast on Vancouver Island. Yet citizens are speaking out against Quebec’s new law as if it existed in British Columbia. It’s rare outrage in a country that has seen few leaders stand up and outwardly proclaim the law to be against Canadian values.

In Victoria, Robinson thanked councilor Sharmarke Dubow, who introduced a motion to city council in support of the legal opposition to Bill 21. Robinson expressed gratitude to Victoria’s city council, which voted unanimously in support of the motion.

“An attack on the constitution in one part of Canada is an attack on the constitution in any part of Canada. This new law will upend people’s lives and livelihoods ⁠— it’s textbook discrimination.”

MORE