Judge rejects groups' attempt to have Quebec secularism law suspended

MONTREAL — A judge rejected an attempt by religious and civil liberties groups to have Quebec's secularism law suspended on Thursday.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Yergeau says Bill 21 will continue to apply until a court rules on the merits of a court challenge against it. The law prohibits some public sector workers, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols at work.

Lawyers representing a national Muslim organization, a civil liberties group and a university student who wears an Islamic head scarf had asked for a judicial stay on the central parts of Bill 21.

They argued the law is causing serious, immediate harm to religious minorities across the province, but Yergeau says the applicants failed to demonstrate the law is causing harm that would warrant a stay for the duration of the court challenge.

Bill 21 was adopted in June and it invokes the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Constitution, which prevents citizens from challenging the law for violating fundamental rights and liberties protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Lawyers challenging the bill did so on grounds rooted outside the charter. They argued the law is unconstitutional because it encroaches on federal jurisdiction, it is impermissibly vague and it violates citizens' rights to participate in their democratic institutions.

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