Bill 96: Feds to ‘wait and see’ how legislation plays out

Attorney General David Lametti defends the federal government’s power to challenge provincial laws it believes infringe on Canadians’ rights after Quebec said Ottawa’s response to bills 21 and 96 lacked “respect.”

“We are simply testing the limits of a piece of legislation, whether it violates the charter or federal jurisdiction. We’ve been doing that since the beginning of the Confederation. We will continue to do so. It is a legit tool. It’s not offensive to anyone. It’s part of the process,” the Quebec-based MP told CTV’s question period.

The federal government has maintained that it will be up to Quebecers to lead any appeals against both bills, but has indicated that it plans to intervene in Bill 21 should it reach the Supreme Court of Canada.

Bill 21 came into effect in June 2019 and prohibits some officials, including teachers and police postings, from donning religious symbols while on the job. Bill 96 was passed on May 24 and confirms that French is the only official and common language of Quebec. The central goal is to ensure that French is used exclusively in workplaces and municipalities.

Critics of the bills say neither represents an inclusive Quebec and argue they infringe certain provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Lametti’s comments come days after Quebec Prime Minister François Legault called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “have a little respect for the majority of Quebecers” as he says he supports controversial secularism and language laws.

His Attorney General Simon Jolin-Barrette added that neither bill is Ottawa’s business, but rather “a Quebec issue”.

Lametti called the response “absurd.”

“There are ongoing challenges to federal jurisdiction by the counties, there are ongoing challenges to provincial jurisdiction by the federal government,” he said, noting that Legault is suing Ottawa over the carbon tax settlement.


In enacting both Bill 21 and Bill 96, the Quebec government has preemptively invoked the notwithstanding clause, which allows provincial lawmakers to temporarily ignore portions of the charter and protect them from many judicial challenges.

Lametti said he doesn’t think the clause should be used in this way.

“The clause notwithstanding was intended to be used as the last word in a dialogue between lawmakers and courts giving the last word to lawmakers. It’s not supposed to be the first word. If it is the first word, it will not only lead to the political debate, but also to the judicial review of the factual determination and it really affects the structure of the charter,” he said.

The minister added that, more generally, it is time for the Supreme Court to assess it.

“For now, there is a Supreme Court ruling that says it can be used that way. I’d say it’s time we review that Supreme Court ruling, we’re asking the Supreme Court to look at it again,” he said.

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