Press Release / Community

EMSB deeply disappointed with Quebec Court of Appeal decision on Bill 21

Montreal - Thursday, February 29, 2024

The English Montreal School Board is deeply disappointed with the Quebec Court of Appeal’s decision not to uphold the  Quebec Superior Court ruling of April 2021 that struck down key provisions of Bill 21, An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State.

We maintain our original position that Bill 21 conflicts with our values and our mission and with those of all Quebecers as expressed in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms,” said EMSB Chair Joe Ortona. “Its very adoption was contrary to our societal goal of promoting peaceful co-existence in a pluralistic Quebec.”

Today’s ruling stems from October 2019, when the EMSB challenged Bill 21 in Quebec Superior Court.  Bill 21 came into force on July 16, 2019 and bars public-school teachers, government lawyers, judges and police officers from wearing religious symbols while at work.  

“This legislation prohibits our future primary and high school teachers, school principals and vice-principals from wearing religious symbols in the exercise of their functions, while limiting the career advancement of our current employees,” said Mr. Ortona. “Most importantly it sends a message of intolerance and exclusion to our students and their families.”

The EMSB’s contention was based primarily on Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantees minority language educational rights to English-speaking minorities in Quebec, including the exclusive right of management and control of school boards accorded to linguistic minority communities across Canada.

“We value the diversity of our students and staff and respect their personal and religious rights which are guaranteed both by the Canadian and Quebec Charters of Rights,” said Mr. Ortona. “This legislation runs contrary to what we teach with regard to respect for individual rights and religious freedoms.”

EMSB’s challenge to Bill 21 was also based on gender discrimination, prohibited under section 28 of the Canadian Charter. Mr. Ortona added that rather than promoting gender equality, Bill 21 has the opposite effect. “Due to the preponderance of women working in Quebec schools, the law has a disproportionate effect on them, particularly on well-educated Muslim women with university teaching degrees whose role in public life is restricted,” he said.  “Bill 21 remains an attempt to solve a non-existent problem.”

“This decision is an affront to the entire English-speaking community in Quebec. We are all Canadians, but as minorities in Quebec, we have the right to full management and control of our school boards. This control includes the right to implement our own approach to secularism, indicating the appropriate dress code for our employees and safeguarding their right to wear their religious symbols freely, in accordance with the distinct culture within our schools. With this ruling, the Quebec Superior Court is casting a wide shadow over English-language school boards and tacitly allowing the provincial government to continue chipping away at the last bastion of the English-speaking community’s autonomy in our province.”

EMSB is evaluating the option of seeking leave to appeal at the Supreme Court of Canada.

About the English Montreal School Board

With a youth and adult sector population of more than 35,000 students, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) is the largest English public school board in Quebec. Established on July 1, 1998, when the province created new boards along linguistic lines. Our network consists of 77 schools and centres. For more details, visit the EMSB website at