Quebec chief justice criticized for declaring herself 'feminist' at Bill 21 hearing
MONTREAL — Quebec's chief justice declared herself a feminist in court last week and then suggested opposition to the province's secularism law resulted from "visual allergies" to seeing women in a hijab. Now Nicole Duval Hesler is facing accusations of bias as well as calls to withdraw from hearing a legal challenge to Bill 21. The Canadian Judicial Council said Monday it has received correspondence from about 30 people expressing concern that she is presiding over the appeal.The chief justice's actions have also drawn divided reactions from academics, with some defending her and others saying she went too far.
Quebec chief justice postpones speech to Jewish law society over Bill 21 concerns. Quebec chief justice criticized for declaring herself ' feminist ' To most of her detractors, though, her worst sin was describing herself as a feminist . “As a feminist ,” she told a government lawyer, “I have a hard time
Yaraslav Baran, a former chief of staff to a Government House leader in Stephen Harper’s government, said he thought the Liberals misplayed the motion. Chris Selley : ' Feminist ' Quebec chief justice makes terrible situation over Bill 21 even worse .
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On Thursday afternoon, pending the result of a constitutional challenge, the Quebec Court of Appeal will rule on an injunction that would invalidate some or all of Bill 21, the law prohibiting provincial civil servants in certain so-called positions of authority from wearing religious symbols. If it’s granted, one of the law’s last casualties, for now, will have been fittingly ironic: the Lord Reading Law Society’s annual Human Rights Dinner.
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The organization of Jewish lawyers had invited Nicole Duval Hesler, Chief Justice of the provincial Court of Appeal, to speak at the event on Tuesday evening. This was unremarkable: Previous guests had included Supreme Court justices Rosalie Abella and Ian Binnie, Justice Allan Hilton of the Court of Appeal, and indeed Duval Hesler herself.
But the Lord Reading Society officially opposes Bill 21. And Duval Hesler heard the appeal on the injunction last month. And that got people’s knickers in a twist. Frédéric Bastien, a history teacher at Dawson College in Montreal who has publicly considered running for the Parti Québécois leadership, worries “that she might well be a partisan judge, that she has an agenda.”
Last week, Duval Hesler pulled out. The event was called off. The topic of her speech was to have been “Avoiding Conflict of Interest at the Court of Appeal.”
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The scheduled appearance wasn’t the only knock against Duval Hesler. At the hearing, she referred to Bill 21’s proponents having a “visual allergy” to religious symbols. This apt description struck some pro-21ers as insufficiently reverent. At the same hearing, Duval Hesler — who plans to retire in the spring — suggested she might in future serve as an arbitrator with respect to the matters before her (which does seem a bit weird).
To most of her detractors, though, her worst sin was describing herself as a feminist. “As a feminist,” she told a government lawyer, “I have a hard time following your argument.”
“It’s not acceptable for a judge to say ‘I’m a feminist,’ or ‘I’m a masculinist,’ or a socialist, or a communist,” Bastien told The Canadian Press. “Whatever ‘ist’ or ‘ism’ you’re talking about, you should keep to yourself about your personal views about the case.”
François Legault's high-stakes game with the courts and Quebec's secularism law
As Bill 21 supporters question the impartiality of Quebec's chief justice, the premier has remained vague about whether he'll respect judgments that go against the controversial law barring public workers from wearing religious symbols on the job.The stakes around Quebec's secularism law have always been high, but somehow they've managed to become even higher in recent days.
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This is quite remarkable. Bill 21’s stated purposes include to strengthen “the equality of women and men.” Many feminists support it, especially those who see the hijab as a symbol of male oppression. And here’s some dude telling the province’s chief jurist, the first woman to hold the position, to zip her lip like it’s 1988. (Indeed, Bastien sounds remarkably like the pro-lifers who bemoaned feminist corruption of the Supreme Court after the Morgentaler decision.)
Bastien’s position is also nonsensical. He wants Duval Hesler to recuse herself, and if she won’t he wants Justice Minister Sonia LeBel to force her to. LeBel has refused comment, while Premier François Legault sympathized with the complainers: “Certainly to maintain public trust requires impartiality and the appearance of impartiality,” he told reporters.
But Duval Hesler would be the same person, the same judge, hearing the same case, had she not said those three little words: “as a feminist.”
If there were other appellate judges available who had no “isms,” ideologies, prejudices, preferences or politics, we could give the case to them. But there are no such judges. They are human beings just like everyone else — as Beverley McLachlin has seemed eager to demonstrate since retiring from the Supreme Court. She recently told TV Ontario’s Steve Paikin that she had considered naming a new puppy Harper, because it would have been funny to bark orders at him.
'Very likely' Manitoba will seek intervenor status in Quebec Bill 21: Pallister
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says it is "very likely" the province will seek intervenor status in Quebec's controversial Bill 21 if the case heads to the Supreme Court of Canada. "It's very likely but we'll wait and see what our partners are doing as we're trying to co-ordinate efforts in respect of gathering support to oppose this piece of misguided legislation," Pallister said Thursday in a scrum speaking to reporters. Bill 21 bans public school teachers, government lawyers and police officers, among other civil servants, from wearing religious symbols at work.
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That was a joke, of course — perhaps an unwise one, if Canadian judges want to continue to be seen as oracles rather than as learned-but-fallible men and women, but a useful one for the rest of us, because we should think of judges as learned-but-fallible men and women. Anyone with a good high school education can drive a truck through the holes the Supreme Court leaves in some of its rulings, never mind those of the lower courts. Yet far too often timorous Canadian legislators let judges take the lead on difficult and extremely important questions — abortion, euthanasia, prostitution.
In a broader sense, we should probably encourage judges to be more open about where they’re coming from. Sunlight can only do Canada’s judicial system good. In the immediate case, though, Duval Hesler’s candour has made a terrible situation even worse.
The best-case scenario had been for the Quebec courts to shoot down the law. It would still almost certainly end up at the Supreme Court, but a convincing decision might at least give some supporters pause. Now they have an excuse to dismiss any ruling against Bill 21 in the Quebec courts, no matter how convincing, as the product of a biased judge. Needless to say, no judge in Ottawa will do any better demonstrating their folly to them. (Not Supreme Court Justice Russell Brown, for example, who is scheduled to speak at the Lord Reading Law Society’s student dinner on Feb. 6 — for now.) The already slim chances of Bill 21 dying before it does real, lasting harm are dwindling toward zero.
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Rights groups want to take Bill 21 to Supreme Court after 'harsh blow' .
The civil rights groups behind a recent attempt to have Quebec’s secularism law suspended say they plan on bringing the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. The National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association announced their intentions Wednesday. The National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association announced their intentions Wednesday. Their bid to have sections of the law, Bill 21 , suspended was rejected in a 2-1 Quebec Court of Appeal decision last week .