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Quebec’s National Assembly voted Wednesday to pass the Liberal government’s Bill 62 which will ban face coverings while giving or receiving any public service in the province. The bill was first proposed in 2015 and, at the time, was only applied to provincial services but has since been amended to include all levels of government. While the bill is being toted as ‘religious neutrality,’ many critics say it is clearly targeting Muslim women who wear face coverings for religious reasons–particularly the niqab and the burka.

The services this law would extend to include but are not limited to public transportation, health care, daycare, public schools and libraries. The bill is in effect immediately, but the guidelines for exemptions (including religious) will not be released until next July.

‘Communication, identification and safety’

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard supports the bill ‘for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety’ and believes that ‘public services should be given and received with an open face.’ He added, ‘We are in a free and democratic society. You speak to me, I should see your face, and you should see mine. It’s as simple as that.’

The bill does not mention niqabs or burkas specifically and leaves room for ‘religious accommodation’ though it is unclear about how those accommodations would be made or requested. Minister Stéphanie Vallée of the National Assembly told CBC Radio that it is not meant to target any religious groups, but is instead about uncovering everyone‘s face. She specifically mentioned protesters and said, ‘We’re talking about having the face uncovered. It’s not what is covering the face.’

Racist, sexist and unconstitutional

There has been an overwhelmingly negative response to the bill throughout Canada. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh says he is ‘completely opposed’ to the law and is confident it will be challenged. An opinion piece in The Montreal Gazette calls Bill 62 ‘a racist, sexist, disgraceful law’ for its province-wide ban on face coverings to make it seem as though it is not intentionally targeting ‘a minority of a minority.’ When the amendments were made to the 2015 iteration of the bill, public transportation was added to the services it would effect. The article points out that banning face coverings on buses is one step away from outright banning them in public.

Muslim women who wear face coverings have come forward to express how the law will limit their abilities to use public services. In order to access services, these women will need to remove their face coverings, something many are not comfortable doing in public or in the presence of men. Twenty-one year-old Zayneb Binruchd told CBC that the law will severely limit her mobility.

‘I go to mall with my friends, I go out, I go to the library, so it will just make me stay home,’ she said, ‘I don’t have a car, I don’t have anybody to drive me around, so it will just block me from the rest of the world.’

Another opinion piece by the CBC claims the ‘systemically discriminatory’ nature of the bill means it can’t possibly stand up under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Emmett Macfarlane writes: ‘not only does the bill violate the freedom of religion guarantee, it undoubtedly violates the Charter’s equality rights protections as well.’

Many have also expressed outrage on social media.

Impossible to enforce

Mayor of Montreal Denis Coderre is speaking against Bill 62 for another reason: it is going to be exhausting to enforce. It will be up to the providers of services like bus drivers, teachers and librarians to ensure the new code is being followed. That’s a huge ask when these people have actual jobs to do.

‘What does that mean? Do we have the niqab police as bus drivers?’ Coderre posited, ‘What are we going to do in the library? Will we refuse to provide them with services?… I don’t think the doability is there.’

Equal enforcement?

If this isn’t about religion, many critics have pointed out, then will the law be enforced when it comes to non-religions face coverings and non-Muslims? Technically, banned face coverings would include sunglasses, winter scarves and balaclavas too. Can we also expect to see bus drivers refuse service to people wearing sunglasses?

This new law is widely expected to be challenged under the Charter. Justin Trudeau says that the federal government will involve itself if they find constitutional rights are being violated.

‘I will continue to work to ensure that all Canadians are protected by the charter, while respecting the choices that different parliamentarians can make at different levels,’ he said, ‘Yet here at the federal level, we stand up for the rights of all Canadians.’