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Bill 21: Open letter to the Quebec Bar president

To the President of the Quebec Bar,

It is with great consternation that we have learned of three messages the Quebec Bar tweeted during the evening of April 26th, announcing that our professional order will NOT participate in the Parliamentary Commission on draft Bill 21 pertaining to state secularism.

Until now, we have always taken for granted that Quebec society can rely upon the Quebec Bar to defend our fundamental rights and freedoms against a government that is prepared to flout them. In fact, we could never have imagined the Bar abandoning its historical role to defend our rights!

We have also just learned of your letter addressed to Mr. André Bachand. We thank you for this effort, but we do not believe the Quebec Bar can permit itself to do so little.

If the political and social debate on draft Bill 21 has been fractious, we believe strongly that the juridical aspects of this debate must be invoked to play their calming social role. The Law is the safeguard against the excesses of the political arena. The Quebec Bar cannot turn its back on its social mission to protect the public – all the public – from mob rule.

As attorneys, we are often reminded that the Quebec Bar is not a simple association driven by the interest and popular opinions of its members. The Quebec Bar must always be above the fray of the popular and the populist. It must explain to the legislature the legal strengths and weaknesses of all draft laws, and this, without regard for the personal orientations and prejudices of each of us.

The Quebec Bar has a fundamental institutional responsibility to society. Abdicating this responsibility is anathema to the role which the community of jurists must play in a free and democratic society, a role which is a pillar of our constitutional democracy. Refusing to lift our voices to protest an attack on our fundamental freedoms is simply not an option.

Our professional order exposes itself to justifiable criticism, both locally and internationally.

You cannot disregard that the exceptional absence of the Quebec Bar from the Parliamentary Commission debating a draft bill presented as foundational to Quebec values, can only add to the already unhealthy climate we have observed since the bill was announced. We are willing to wager that the maxim "he who says nothing, consents" will prevail, and the Bar's absence will be viewed as support for Bill 21.

In addition, keeping in mind the importance of building a judicial system that inspires confidence and respect, the Quebec Bar must ensure that the diversity of Quebec society is reflected therein. Instead, Bill 21 directly attacks members of the Quebec Bar who are members of religious minority communities, by denying them access to many facets of the practice of law.

As attorneys, we are revolted by the fact that our professional order refuses to speak up at the Parliamentary Commission to reassure the public that no matter what our personal beliefs and characteristics, whether visible or invisible, we have all taken an oath to uphold the Rule of Law and to be officers of justice.

To permit the legislator to target certain people amongst us as being inherently less capable of fulfilling our obligations according to the highest standards of our profession can only serve to erode the confidence of the public in our profession, in addition to marginalizing members of our profession for whom the achievement of this profession is already a greater challenge by reason of being amongst the targeted minorities.

For all these reasons, we call upon the Quebec Bar to reconsider its position and to instruct the Parliamentary Commission and the public as to the juridical aspects of Bill 21 and its odious impact on our fellow citizens who are visibly members of religious minorities.

With our most distinguished salutations,

Me Anne-France Goldwater

Me Marie-Hélène Dubé