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Bill 21: Government lawyers say presence of symbols in courts is 'marginal'

A group of protesters, including lawyers and teachers, against Bill 21 formed a human chain in downtown Montreal, Quebec May 5, 2019.
A group of protesters, including lawyers and teachers, against Bill 21 formed a human chain in downtown Montreal, Quebec May 5, 2019.

QUEBEC — Lawyers and notaries working for the Quebec government have told the committee examining Bill 21 that the rules against religious symbols have to cover all of them or none — it’s a question of coherence.

Describing the issue of symbols as “marginal,” among the hundreds of lawyers in the employ of the Quebec government, Marc Dion, president of Les avocats et notaires de l’État Québécois, said of his 1,267 members, between 600 and 700 are covered by the ban in the bill, 500 are not.

That means applying the bill presents special challenges for the judiciary, he added.

There could be situations in a courtroom where a lawyer working for the Régie du logement or Quebec Human Rights Commission would be not allowed to wear a symbol but a lawyer working for Revenu Québec, l’Authorité des marchés financiers or Investissement Québec on the same case can.

And what happens when lawyers are called in to help a cabinet minister at a legislature committee? The lawyer from the finance department is banned from wearing a symbol, the one from revenue is not?

“We are all lawyers, there are just different fields of expertise,” Dion told the committee. “For us, it’s all or none. It’s a question of coherence.

“There is an issue of coherence when we find ourselves in the same courtroom, on the same file, where there are two lawyers acting for the state, one with a symbol, the other not.

Dion, however, was cautious about stating a political opinion about the bill, insisting that is not his job.

He did say in his view when a lawyer represents the state they have to be “impartial and neutral.”

“What happens when someone who finds themselves refused an immigration certificate and sees that the lawyer who is representing the state … is of another faith?  Objectively, certain people might say he was he against me because he does not have the same faith.

“Subjectively, some could say that.”

The committee also heard Wednesday from the Mouvement laïque Québécois, a civilian lobby group pushing for secularism . The group asked the Coalition Avenir Québec government to expand the planned ban on religious symbols for authority figures in schools.

Instead of just elementary and high school teachers and principals, the movement said the ban should cover all the workers in a school or CEGEP, including administrators and cleaning staff.

But later, the powerful Confédération des syndicats nationaux representing 300,000 workers, made a pitch for tolerance and diversity, calling on the government to withdraw Bill 21.

pauthier@postmedia.com

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Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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