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Quebec wants Supreme Court judge to recuse himself from Bill 21 challenge

Judge Mahmud Jamal speaks during an official welcoming ceremony at the Supreme Court of Canada, Thursday, October 28, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld Judge Mahmud Jamal speaks during an official welcoming ceremony at the Supreme Court of Canada, Thursday, October 28, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
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The Quebec government is calling for a Supreme Court of Canada judge to recuse himself as the court deliberates whether to hear an appeal involving the province's secularism law, known as Bill 21.

The province says Justice Mahmud Jamal doesn't have the "required impartiality" to hear the case because he was chairman of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association's board of directors when the group challenged Bill 21 in Superior Court in 2019.

In a letter sent Wednesday to the country's highest court, first reported on by Le Devoir and obtained by The Canadian Press, Quebec Attorney General Simon Jolin-Barrette says it would be inappropriate for Jamal to deliberate on a case "in which he was a party."

The Canadian Press also obtained letters from a Quebec secularism group, Mouvement laïque québécois, and a feminist organization, Pour les droits des femmes du Québec, both of which also requested that Jamal recuse himself for reasons similar to those cited by Jolin-Barrette.

On June 25 after the issue was first raised, the Supreme Court said Jamal has no intention of sitting out the case. "He believes there is no real or reasonably perceivable conflict of interest that would compel him to recuse himself," says the letter, a copy of which was also obtained by The Canadian Press.

In February, Quebec's Court of Appeal upheld the province's secularism law, which prohibits some public sector workers from wearing religious symbols on the job.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and other groups have sought leave to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court, which has not yet said whether it will hear the case.

Jamal was appointed to the Supreme Court on July 1, 2021. He previously served as a judge on the Court of Appeal for Ontario from 2019 to 2021. Before his appointment as a judge he practised law with Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP for more than 23 years.

In a questionnaire completed as part of the Supreme Court appointment process, Jamal said he served for over 13 years on the CCLA’s board of directors, including a stint as chairman. He also represented the group as an intervener in several appeals before the Supreme Court, including two freedom of religion cases.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2024.

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