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The Canadian province of Quebec has just passed controversial Bill 62, banning public workers from wearing facial coverings and requiring citizens to unveil while using government services and public transit.
The Liberal Party, which holds a majority in Quebec’s provincial parliament, voted in favour of the bill, while all the other parties voted against it. The two main opposition parties, the Parti Québécois and Coalition Avenir Québec, have argued the legislation doesn’t go far enough in banning items connected to religious affiliations, while civil rights advocates and Muslim groups argue that it discriminates against cultural minorities.
Although the bill doesn’t directly mention the niqab or burqa, it prohibits public workers — including doctors, teachers and daycare workers — as well as those receiving a service from the government, from covering their faces.
“We are just saying that, for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety, public services should be given and received with an open face,” Quebec’s Liberal Party leader Philippe Couillard told reporters on Wednesday.
“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,” Couillard remarked.
It may not be that simple, however. Although proponents of Bill 62 cite it as promoting religious neutrality throughout the province, backlash points to the fact that the bill creates barriers for women and further isolates an already marginalized and stigmatized segment of the population, and essentially excludes them from engaging with public life on their own terms.
Additionally, Montreal’s mayor, Denis Coderre, who is in the midst of a municipal election campaign, has spoken out against the bill, accusing the provincial government of exceeding its jurisdiction and ignoring his city’s multicultural nature. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also chimed in, stating that although the federal government does not interfere with provincial laws, he “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.”
The legislation does include the possibility of an exemption for those who put in a request for accommodation, but there is also little explanation about how this would work. The provincial government states that it will work to create a clearer outline in the coming months.
While politicians have stated that the ban on receiving services while wearing a face covering would enter into effect immediately, implementing the law will likely prove challenging on the ground — especially since the guidelines for how those working in the public sector should carry out the law may not be ready until next summer.
Earlier this year in Quebec, six men — all of whom were fathers — were shot dead as they prayed at a mosque in Quebec City. According to Statistics Canada, hate crimes targeting Canadian Muslims increased from 2012 to 2015 by 253 percent.