At hearings this week before the Quebec Court of Appeal over Quebec’s secularism law — known as Bill 21 — only one of more than a dozen lawyers who have addressed the court has worn a religious symbol .
Theodore Goloff represents the Lord Reading Law Society, a group of Jewish lawyers and legal experts in Quebec.
When Goloff first pleaded in the case on Monday, he was not wearing a yarmulke.
When he reappeared on Wednesday to make further points, he was wearing a yarmulke.
Goloff began his presentation Wednesday with a preamble, describing himself to the jury as Jewish, a Native Quebecers (born in Quebec) and lawyer, what he called a profession of trust.
Goloff, noting that he wore a yarmulke in court that day but not two days earlier, asked the panel of judges whether his arguments in court that day were less legitimate than those he had made two days earlier. earlier while wearing religious attire. symbol.
The moment was over spectacular turn of events than a legal argument, but in a largely symbolic debate, Goloff’s gesture resonated.
Lawyer argues Bill 21 ‘guarantees inconsistency’
The purpose of this week’s hearings is for the Quebec government and several civil liberties groups to present arguments about a Superior Court decision last year, which upheld most – but not all – of the provisions of Bill 21.
Passed under the Coalition Avenir Québec government in June 2019, the secularism law prohibits public school teachers, police officers, government lawyers, a host of other public servants and even some politicians from wearing religious symbols. at work.
Thursday, Goloff (this time without yarmulke) built on the argument he made on Wednesday, suggesting that Bill 21 was so vague and arbitrary that it could not be applied fairly.
“The provisions of Bill 21 provide no consistency. They almost guarantee inconsistency,” Goloff told the court.
Goloff gave the example of an alliance. He noted that for some people, a wedding ring is a secular symbol. For others, including some Jews, it has religious significance.
He said Bill 21 allows the wearing of a wedding ring as a secular symbol, but not as a religious symbol.
He also noted that Bill 21 prohibits the wearing of religious symbols for certain officials “in the line of duty,” but it’s unclear exactly what that means.
“Where does the law apply? One section talks about geographic space, another section talks about when the work is done. If the lawyer is working from home, does Law 21 apply still?” Goloff asked.
“If you have a referee who is a religious Catholic working on his papers at home, should he or should he not remove his crucifix?” Goloff said.
The Superior Court judgment that is the subject of this week’s appeal also noted the various inconsistencies in Bill 21 but ultimately ruled that the law could stand despite those inconsistencies.
Goloff argued that the Superior Court judge erred in that finding and that citizens had a right to be clear about the “sphere of risk” they faced if they potentially broke the law.
“The onus is on the legislator to answer these questions, and the legislator has failed,” Goloff said.
Thursday is the last day set aside for arguments in the case. An extra day has been set aside next week in case the panel has additional questions for the lawyers.
It will likely be months before there is a decision, and even then the case would have to be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.