Quebec bans face coverings in public service

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Quebec passed new legislation this month which has caused backlash from many Canadians. Bill 62, the “religious neutrality law,” mandates that no face covering can be worn when providing or receiving public services, including riding the bus, taking a book out at the library, or working any jobs in the municipal or provincial public sector.

Many accuse the bill of  unfairly targeting Muslim women. Who wear religious clothing, namely niqabs or burqas, which cover their faces. According to the bill, these women must uncover their faces when using public service or working in public service. The bill also applies to people wearing a mask, or sunglasses and a scarf, for example.

“We’re talking about having the face uncovered, not what’s covering the face,” says Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée. Vallée stated that the law applied only when required for communication, security or identification.

There has been a lack of clarity surrounding the law, as well as contradictory clarifications. CBC reported that people would be required to remove a face covering for the full duration of a bus ride, and later reported that face coverings would only need to be removed for identification purposes, such as using a student ID to receive a student discount. There is also lack of clarity surrounding how workers should interact with citizens who request service and are wearing face coverings. The law does not state how to handle incidents in which people refuse to remove a face covering, or request service while having their face covered. Vallée has said that accommodation cannot be impossible. However, she has also said that accommodation for religious reasons must be given on a case-by-case basis, from each public service separately. This could be an extremely frustrating and tedious ordeal for people, especially those who wear burqas or niqabs. It could be July of 2018 before the law is fully developed and all unclarities are resolved. Despite the controversy, the bill was passed by a vote of 66 to 51.

“I will always stand up for Canadians’ rights. I will always stand up for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in relation to the bill “I don’t think it should be the government’s business to tell a woman what she should or shouldn’t be wearing”. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms declares the following:“Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

Freedom of conscience and religion;

Freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression,”

Civil Rights activists are speaking out against the bill, saying that it infringes on these rights. Muslim women wear burqas or niqabs to follow a religious practice. The Qur’an calls for men and women to “cover and be modest.” Although it can be open to interpretation, this command is a religious reason for wearing a burqa or niqab. The practice has been shaped by centuries of cultures and nationalities. The fact still remains that there is a religious command which dictates that men and women cover up, which is the exact purpose of the burqa and niqab. Bill 62 is the first of it’s kind in North America. Quebec is currently the only jurisdiction on the continent which prohibits face covering for public service. There is still extensive debate surrounding the legislation, and it currently remains unclear exactly what the implications of the law might be.

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