QUEBEC—The Quebec national assembly has passed a controversial religious neutrality bill that obliges citizens to uncover their faces while giving and receiving state services. Members voted 66-51 in favour of Bill 62 on Oct. 18.
Tabled by Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee in 2015, it is the governing Liberals’ response to the Bouchard-Taylor report on religious accommodation from more than a decade ago.
It follows up on an election promise in 2014 to address the issue after the Parti Quebecois’ own controversial secularism charter, the so-called charter of values, died after the party was swept out of power that year.
While the Liberal bill doesn’t specifically mention the garb, it would prohibit the burka and niqab while people interact with the state, but it doesn’t extend to other religious symbols as the PQ’s charter did.
The law will also provide for the possibility of religious accommodation if certain criteria are met.
Premier Philippe Couillard said he expects some people to challenge the law, but he defended the legislation as necessary for reasons related to communication, identification, and security.
“The principle to which I think a vast majority of Canadians by the way, not only Quebecers, would agree upon is that public services should be given and received with an open face,” he said.
“I speak to you, you speak to me. I see your face, you see mine. As simple as that.”
Vallee said guidelines on how to apply the law—notably criteria touching on reasonable accommodation—would be phased in by next June 30 after consultations.
Provisions regarding daycare will kick in by next summer to allow educators to get training, but the majority of the face-covering provisions will take effect once the lieutenant-governor rubber-stamps the law.
That means people who sit an exam will have to do so with their faces uncovered. Asked specifically about someone getting on a bus, Vallee replied that all services offered must be done with the face uncovered.
The face-covering ban only involved provincial employees when first introduced, but has since been amended to extend to the municipal level as well as public transit.
The main opposition parties, who voted against the bill, have said the Liberals didn’t go far enough, while advocacy groups and academics have said the law could be subject to legal challenge.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said he remains very uncomfortable with the legislation.
“I don’t understand why we have that kind of legislation, to be honest,” Coderre told reporters, noting no city employees wear niqabs.
He says Montreal stands to bear the brunt of the impact of the new law and raised concerns again about city employees being forced to deal with tense situations, including having to decide whether women wearing Islamic face coverings should be able to use public transit.
Coderre said he has no problem with providing services with a visible face, but doesn’t agree with the rest.
From The Canadian Press