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Green Party deputy leader calls for federal intervention in Quebec’s religious symbols law

The deputy leader of the federal Green Party says he would like to see Canada’s attorney general intervene in court cases that challenge Quebec’s new law on religious symbols.

But that position is at odds with the party’s official position on the legislation commonly referred to as Bill 21.

Quebec’s National Assembly passed the law in June. It bars authority figures — including public school teachers, government lawyers, judges and police officers — from wearing religious symbols while at work.

Daniel Green, the Green’s deputy leader and candidate in the Montreal riding of Outremont, told CBC News on Friday that he believes the law is unconstitutional.

He said the federal government should seek intervener status in the event a legal challenge to Bill 21 makes its way to the country’s top court. 

“I think it’s an important intervention,” Green said. “The attorney general of Canada should intervene in this Supreme Court review.”

‘It’s not something that we’re taking on as a cause within the Green Party, to intervene in a court hearing,’ Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said. (Matthew Pierce/CBC)

No other federal party has committed to such a position. Even Green’s own party leader, Elizabeth May, disagrees with him.

In an interview earlier this week, May said that while Bill 21 violates the freedom of religion provision of the Charter, the party respects the province’s ability to make its own laws.

“It’s not something that we’re taking on as a cause within the Green Party, to intervene in a court hearing,” she said.

Candidates free to hold diverging views on Bill 21

Bill 21 is already facing a court challenge in Quebec. Two civil rights groups filed a motion in June asking the Quebec Superior Court to declare the law unconstitutional. 

The groups are also appealing a Superior Court decision that refused to freeze parts of the law pending a more substantive review of its constitutionality.

Both Green and May admit there are wide ranging views among Green Party candidates when it comes to Bill 21.

The party’s newest Quebec recruit, Pierre Nantel, has waded into the religious symbols debate in the past.

Nantel had represented a riding on Montreal’s south shore for the NDP since 2011, when he was elected as part of the Orange Wave.

But he was booted from the NDP caucus last week after it emerged he was in talks with the Greens. On Monday, he formally announced his decision to run as a Green candidate in Longueuil–Saint-Hubert.

Nantel made headlines in 2017 when he commented that then-leadership candidate Jagmeet Singh wasn’t a good fit for Quebecers, saying “ostentatious religious symbols” are “not compatible with power, with authority.”

In an interview this week, Nantel refused to say what he thought of Quebec’s religious symbol law. As a federal MP, he said, he would not weigh in on provincial affairs.

Quebec MP Pierre Nantel, left, announced Monday he will run as a candidate for the Green Party in the riding of Longueuil–Saint-Hubert. (CBC)

“I think Quebec’s situation, it’s the National Assembly’s jurisdiction, and we should not get involved with it,” he told CBC News. 

May said she won’t muzzle her candidates, even on sensitive topics such as banning religious symbols in parts of Quebec’s civil service.

“Within the Green Party, our individual members of parliament speak for their own constituents,” said May.

“We don’t ask our employees to represent the leader’s views back to their own home ridings.”

Candidates should tread lightly on religious symbols: Green

Green, the deputy leader, said candidates have been told to be careful when discussing religious symbols in Quebec because it is a sensitive issue. 

“We’re approaching it carefully because, like most of Quebec society, there’s division on this issue,” he said.

He said that candidates are not forced to share their opinion on the religious symbols law if they’re not inclined.

“Here’s an attempt to do politics differently: to give intellectual freedom to some of our candidates,” said Green.

“And if our candidates would rather not debate it, they have the right to say ‘no comment.'”