English schools say they are protected from Bill 21

Representatives of Quebec's English school system say that even if the CAQ government goes ahead with its proposed legislation banning religious symbols for new public sector employees in a position of authority, it can't be applied to English Schools.

The new coalition, which includes the Quebec English School Boards Association, points to a 1990 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in a case that involved Alberta francophone schools. The landmark ruling, Mahe v. Alberta, states that minority language communities have the exclusive authority to make decisions over aspects of language education, which includes recruitment and hiring of teachers.

"Quebec trying to impose a ban on religious symbols for teachers is, in our view, inconsistent with the judgement," said Russell Copeman, Quebec English School Boards Association. 

According to the coalition, the Quebec government can't force English schools to hire new teachers who do not wear religious symbols because it has no say over staffing decisions of English school boards.

Copeman added that the rights of English-speaking minorities in Quebec are protected by Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is not subject to the notwithstanding clause.

Premier Francois Legault did not agree with the coalition's interpretation of the 1990 ruling.

"They are part of Quebec. And if we decide there are no religious signs for people in an authority position, of course it applies to Anglophones," he told reporters.

Legault added the proposed legislation has been reviewed by lawyers and it is legal.

Copeman fired back.

"If they're on such sound legal ground, why are they invoking the notwithstanding clause?" he asked.