The Quebec Superior Court has ruled that the religious symbols ban under Bill 21 won't apply to English schools in Quebec, according to multiplereports. This means that teachers in English schools who wish to wear religious symbols won't be required to remove them.
The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) shared the news on Tuesday, saying it's "elated with the Quebec Superior Court’s decision to strike down key provisions of Bill 21."
However, the CBC reports that the court upheld most of Bill 21, which forbids public-facing government employees from wearing religious symbols while performing their duties.
According to the EMSB, the Superior Court allowed English schools to be exempt under a provision in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which "guarantees minority language educational rights to English-speaking minorities in Quebec, including the exclusive right of management and control of minority language schools."
"A religious symbol worn by a teacher in no way affects their ability to provide quality education in a secular state, within a secular education system and in the classrooms of public schools administered by the EMSB," said EMSB Chair Joe Ortona.
A judge has ruled that Quebec's ban on religious symbols will apply to English schools as the case moves through the court system. Meanwhile, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) says it will continue to fight Bill 21.
Bill 21, also known as the "secularism law," bars all religious symbols from the public sector. This means public service workers, like teachers and police officers, can't wear hijabs, kippahs, crosses, turbans or any other religious symbols while at work.
Last April, Quebec's Superior Court exempted English schools from Bill 21 because it found parts of the bill violated the English-language minority's constitutional right to manage and control its own schools.
The Quebec government appealed that decision, delaying the exemption. But because that appeal process could take longer than a year, the EMSB asked the courts for an exemption from Bill 21 until the matter is decided.
"We remain committed to continue our challenge to Bill 21 and to defend our exclusive right to manage and control our institutions in accordance with our culture," EMSB Chair Joe Ortona said in the statement.
Ortona also noted that under the current province-wide teacher shortage, "A favorable judgment would also have given the EMSB much needed hiring options."
This article’s cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.
Quebec Premier François Legault directed some pointed words at the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) at a press conference on Tuesday after the organization insisted that the government withdraw its language reform legislation — the controversial Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec.
"I think they are disconnected," said the premier, "it's as if they've become a radical group."
The EMSB's suggestion that the government should withdraw from Bill 96 was met with anger from both the provincial government and the Bloc Québécois.
In a document, the EMSB asserted that Bill 96 would lead to a "further decline of enrollment at English schools" and that it "discourages bilingualism by restricting Francophones and allophones from accessing English CEGEPs," among other things.
Jon G. Bradley, a former professor who added his voice to the document, insisted that "Quebec is not a nation. It never has been."
"Even the federal government recognizes that Quebec is a nation," Legault said at his press conference.
This controversy has made its way into the Montreal mayoral race as well. Ensemble Montréal leader Denis Coderre removed EMSB chairman Joe Ortona as one of his candidates in the Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough.
Legault praised Coderre's move.
"I was happy to see Denis Coderre remove his candidate that came from the EMSB," he said.
"We live in a francophone province in a francophone city from a legislative perspective, but the reality of Montreal is far different," the leader of Mouvement Montréal said in an interview with MTL Blog.
"So, for us, it was important to re-establish the identity of Montreal, which is one that is inclusive."
"This is not a contested question," Holness said, citing a survey showing most Montrealers believe the city is bilingual. "We all know Montreal is bilingual and multicultural and it is something that we should embrace and recognize."
"Moreover, Montreal beyond that is even trilingual," he continued. "There are people from all over the world who speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian. And all of these languages make up the diversity of Montreal, and it enriches us all."
Rather than contributing to the decline of French in Montreal, Holness said his language policies would help preserve it by offering non-francophones incentives to learn.
"The fact that we are going to incentivize and ameliorate the chances of anglophones to work in the City of Montreal means they'll be able to learn French through their employment activity," he said. "We're going to be increasing la francisation des anglophones."
"Right now, what's happening is that we're excluding anglophones," he continued. "They're moving to demerged cities such as Westmount, such as Côte Saint-Luc, such as Kirkland. They're not being incorporated into the reality and to the economic life of Montreal, and we're just pushing them all away."
Holness wants more jobs for people with spotty French
If elected, Mouvement Montréal would work to create a more inclusive municipal workforce because it's currently falling short in terms of ethnic and linguistic diversity, he said.
Of the city's roughly 25,000 municipal employees, "only about 2% of those in management positions are visible minorities and even less of those are anglophone," Holness claimed.
To change that he plans to lower the French language requirements for municipal jobs.
"Right now, when you go in for a [municipal] job, there is an evaluation based on your capacity to speak French," he said.
"So, we want to create assessments and evaluations of language that are less severe to allow individuals to get into the workforce. And then they can learn French, once they are on the job, through their interactions with their coworkers and with the public."
"The idea is that anglophones, especially those that are visible minorities, should have an easier time getting into the workforce," he continued.
'They don't want to be inclusive'
On November 7 people will vote to elect a mayor as well as 46 members of Montreal's City Council.
The current mayor, Projet Montréal's Valérie Plante, is seeking re-election and her main challenger is the previous mayor, Ensemble Montréal's Denis Coderre.
As Plante recently introduced an "action plan" to promote the French language in Montreal and Coderre is reportedly open to provincial government-led language reform, Holness accused his opponents of trying to impose provincial ideas on the metropolis.
"Valérie Plante is from Rouyn-Noranda, Denis Coderre is from Joliette," he continued. "And there's this whole idea that the regions are imposing on Montreal their vision for Montreal. And the question is, what do Montrealers want for their city?"
"Many people across the region say Montreal is the only francophone city in North America, and they're right, but Montreal also has a bilingual multicultural reality," he said. "So you have Quebec City trying to impose an identity on Montreal does not meet reality, which is multilingual and multicultural."
"We need a multilingual and multicultural policy and beyond that, a political party that reflects that diversity through and through," he added.
Projet Montréal does not reflect that diversity, he concluded, explaining how he helped organize a grassroots anti-racism movement, which he says prompted the city's public consultation agency to hold a series of hearings on systemic discrimination in 2019.
As a result, Plante created a commissioner on systemic discrimination and promised to hire more minorities for municipal jobs. But Holness had sharp words for the mayor, saying she only took those steps out of "obligation."
"The reason why there was a public consultation on systemic racism and discrimination is because the administration had an all-white French executive committee when they were elected in 2017. Period. That's their vision of Montreal," he said.
"They don't want to be inclusive," he said. "Mouvement Montréal, my political party, is by its very nature, authentically diverse. We've done in two months what it took them nearly two decades to do, which is have a diverse team."