EMSB receiving $250,000 from Ottawa for high-profile court challenges



The English Montreal School Board offices in Montreal.


John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

The English Montreal School Board has received $250,000 in federal government funding to help cover the legal costs of two high-profile court challenges against the Quebec government.

The Court Challenges Program (CCP) has awarded the board $125,000 to fund its challenge of Bill 21, the province’s religious symbols ban.

The EMSB believes that the secularism law infringes on several rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Bill 21 forbids public school teachers and other provincial employees in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols on the job.

In its court challenge filed last fall, the board alleges that Bill 21 forces the EMSB to promote gender bias and violates the constitutional right of Quebec’s English minority to govern its own schools.

Bill 21 was passed using the notwithstanding clause so it cannot be challenged on grounds that it violates religious liberties outlined in the charter. However, the notwithstanding clause does not exempt the law from being challenged on grounds of gender equality.

The board received an additional $125,000 to contest a section of the provincial Education Act that allowed the education minister to transfer two of its school buildings to a French school board, saying it violates minority language rights. The EMSB maintains that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives it the authority to make decisions relating to instruction and use of its buildings.

The CCP’s goal is to provide financial assistance for important court cases that “advance language and equality rights under the Canadian constitution.”

The University of Ottawa administers the program and decisions on funding are made by a panel of experts.

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