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Minority groups in Quebec should be concerned after Bill 21 ruling, says anglo group

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While some celebrated after Bill 21 was upheld on Thursday, the Quebec Court of Appeal decision sparked concern for minority groups in the province.

"I think all minorities should be worried about the ruling yesterday," said Sylvia Martin-Laforge, the director general of the Quebec Community Groups Network, in an interview Friday.

Martin-Laforge says the ruling sets a dangerous precedent.

"It means that the government can pass any bill, like Bill 96, that ignores our fundamental human rights without fear that the courts can overturn them."

Bill 21 bans public sector workers in positions of authority, such as police officers, judges and teachers, from wearing religious symbols on the job. The 290-page decision also overturned a previous ruling that exempted English school boards from the law.

"I'm very disappointed," said Fatemeh Anvari, who was removed from her teaching job in Chelsea, Que. in 2021 for wearing a hijab. She told CTV News on Thursday that she feels like the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not apply to all Canadians equally.

"When I saw, you know, my colleagues in the school who were teaching their classes, I couldn't help but think that I am deprived of that right only because of how I choose to dress," she said.

"It's very disappointing to see, like I said, so many people in Quebec who are affected by this. So many people have said this is affecting us emotionally, affecting our sense of belonging, how we feel within Quebec, within Canada, our identities. It's been really sad, honestly."

Benoit Pelletier, a distinguished law professor at the University of Ottawa, says rights and liberties should be respected and hopes the ruling doesn't lead to an increase in the use of the notwithstanding clause.

"There is a price to pay, politically speaking, for using the notwithstanding clause. The price is not very evident in Quebec, I must admit, because governments who use it are more popular," Pelletier said.

Quebec Premier François Legault reacted to the ruling again on Friday.

"I think right now, the majority of Quebecers agree to forbid the religious signs for teachers, for police people, for judges, for prison guards, so I think it's reasonable," he told reporters. "It's a lot less than what we have, for example, in France, and I think because there's a consensus within Quebecers, it would be a lack of respect to oppose this law that is accepted by the majority of Quebecers."

While some say Thursday's decision could have an impact on other court challenges over the preemptive use of the clause, like Bill 96, Pelletier says there are two provisions that are not subjected to the application of the notwithstanding clause

"Interpretation of the Court of Appeal yesterday in the case of Bill 21 with regards to the notwithstanding clause might not be applicable in the case of the court challenges of Bill 96," he said.

The English Montreal School Board says it will take the time to review the decision before deciding on an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Other groups have vowed to keep fighting but Pelletier says he has no doubt the case will end up in front of Canada's highest court.

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