Long wait for Bill 21 appeal is 'disappointing' amid teacher shortage, says EMSB

People protest against Law 21 outside Quebec Premier Francois Legault's office in Montreal, Sunday, June 14, 2020, on the one year anniversary of the controversial bill. The COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

It wasn't what many teachers wanted to hear: English school boards in Quebec won't be hiring people who wear religious symbols just yet.

Despite a court victory over the province’s controversial Bill 21 on Tuesday, the board, and some people whose life plans hang in the balance, have to put those plans on hold after the government said it will appeal.

“The government decided to appeal, even before they had a chance to read the judgment in its entirety, and it kind of put things on hold for a bit. We're just going to have to be patient a little while longer,” said English Montreal School Board chair Joe Ortona.

Ortona said he's nevertheless convinced a victory on appeal is a foregone conclusion.

“The Supreme Court has said over the last 30 years that Section 23 protects minority rights and culture -- they've always said that,” he said.

"Minority rights" in this case, of course, means the rights of English school boards rather than the rights of religious minorities affected by Bill 21, legally speaking. The ruling Tuesday said that boards like the EMSB will be able to hire teachers with religious symbols because imposing the bill on them would violate their rights to determine their own English-language school system.

But the same delay because of the appeal will apply to all other English-language school boards in Quebec, said Russell Copeman of the Quebec Association of English School Boards.

“Any teacher hired since Tuesday would still have to conform to the provisions of Bill 21," he said. "Of course we find that disappointing, because there is a significant teacher shortage."

Haniyfa Scott, who teaches at Carlyle Elementary School in the Town of Mount Royal, gets to keep her job, and to wear her hijab, because currently employed staffers in English schools boards aren't affected by Bill 21, as before

But she said she's disappointed that the government's decision to appeal the ruling means the law remains in effect for now.

“I would have hoped that our school board would have kind of hired some people and have them waiting in the wings, so as soon as it happens, they can come," she said, "because I'm sure there's qualified people who can fit the job but they can't because they're wearing a hijab."

The fact that she's nearing the end of her own career doesn't change how she feels about that, either, she said.

“I'm going to be retired within the next four years,” she said. “But I would certainly fight for that right for young people, old people, anybody.”

 

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