Supreme Court judge recuses himself from Quebec secularism law case, bowing to pressure

Supreme Court judge recuses himself from Quebec secularism law case, bowing to pressure

Supreme Court Justice Mahmud Jamal has decided to recuse himself from the hearing of a challenge to Quebec’s secularism law after the provincial government and two advocacy groups argued he was biased in the appeal.

The judge, however, says there is no legal basis for his recusal and is stepping down so that his participation does not become a distraction during the hearing, according to a letter written by court clerk Chantal Carbonneau.

Carbonneau writes that Jamal believes the allegations of bias against him are unfounded and do not meet the “high threshold” for establishing grounds “to rebut the ‘strong presumption’ of judicial impartiality of a judge of this Court.”

The letter, sent on Tuesday, was posted to the following address: Quebec Secular Movement‘ website, one of the groups that questioned Jamal’s bias with For the rights of women in Quebec and the Attorney General of Quebec.

They argued Jamal’s involvement as chairman of the board of directors of one of the plaintiffs in the case English Montreal School Board, et al. v. Attorney General of Quebec, et al. The case justified his disqualification from hearing the appeal.

From 2006 to 2019, Jamal served on the board of directors of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), which, along with the National Council of Canadian Muslims, filed a legal challenge on June 17, 2019, before the Superior Court of Quebec to suspend the application of the secularism law and declare it invalid.

Quebec’s secularism law — commonly known as Bill 21 — prohibits public school teachers, police officers, judges and government lawyers, among other public servants in positions of authority, from wearing religious symbols, such as the hijab, crucifix or turban, at work.

Jamal resigned from the CCLA Board of Directors on June 24, 2019, when he was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal. He was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2021. Prior to his appointment, Jamal was a lawyer at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt.