Civil rights groups file leave to appeal judge’s refusal to freeze parts of Quebec’s religious symbols law

Two civil rights groups are seeking an appeal after a Quebec Superior Court justice refused their emergency request to temporarily freeze parts of the province’s new religious symbols law.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association filed the leave to appeal at Quebec’s Court of Appeal on Monday.

“This bill must be stopped now. That is because Bill 21 at its core is about separating us from each other,” said Mustafa Farooq, NCCM’s executive director, on the steps of the Appeal Court on Tuesday.

The law, formerly known as Bill 21, was passed by the Coalition Avenir Québec government last month and seeks to affirm laicity, or secularism, within the province’s civil service.

It bans public teachers, police officers, government lawyers and other authority figures from wearing religious symbols at work. It also requires public services to be given without face coverings such as the niqab.

Within hours of the law coming into effect, the two groups filed a motion challenging its constitutionality, saying parts of it force people to give up their identities.

That motion included a request for an injunction, a legal measure that would have frozen parts of the law while waiting for the courts to weigh in on the bigger constitutional question.

However on July 18, Justice Michel Yergeau ruled court must defer, at this stage, to the power of elected politicians to pass legislation they believe is in the public good.

“We disagree that the harm to folks of Quebec is hypothetical. Rather, it is actual, inevitable and irreparable. We believe that there is urgency in halting this law,” said Farooq.

The Jewish group B’nai Brith Canada and the World Sikh Organization are considering joining the appeal.

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