Burqa: Quebec, Canada Bans Face Veils In Public Services

by Bamidele Ogunberu Posted on October 22nd, 2017

Quebec City, Quebec, Canada: Bill 62 that requires people in the Canadaian province of Quebec who give or receive any public service to uncover their faces has been passed into law Wednesday at the National Assembly (66 to 51) in Quebec City. The ban on wearing face-coverings while receiving or giving public services goes into effect immediately.

Bill 62 does not specifically mention the niqab or burqa, two styles of traditional garments that cover the face, worn by some Muslim women. The legislation applies to anyone giving or receiving public services. That means, according to the justice minister, anyone who rides a bus or the Metro must be unveiled.

Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée said the law will affect anyone who uses state services, such as bus transportation, medical care or checking out a book at the library.

‘To take public transit, you have to have your face uncovered. All through the ride,’ Vallée said on Wednesday.

Vallée said that the law could be extended to included bandannas and certain sunglasses as well.

Beyond the face-covering ban, the law sets out broad limits for all requests for religious accommodation.

It says a request has to be “serious,” respect the right to equality between men and women and “the right of every person to be treated without discrimination.”

The law also details under what circumstances employers and schools should refuse requests for time off for religious reasons.

Under the rules for religious accommodation requests, a woman who wears a niqab or burka when receiving public services can apply for an exemption, leading many critics to question how far-reaching the ban will actually be.

The new law also bars subsidized daycares from teaching children specific religious beliefs.

All Quebec ministries will be subject to the law, as will all school boards, universities, public health-care institutions, subsidized daycare centres, municipalities, public transit authorities, and the Montreal region’s train agency, the RMT.

It will also apply to doctors, dentists and midwives.

However, people who provide spiritual guidance will be exempt from the duty of religious neutrality imposed in the legislation.

However, the legislation does not say what service providers should do when someone with a covered face asks to be served.

An administrative committee will be struck to consider various scenarios and produce advice, said the justice minister’s media attaché, Isabelle Marier St-Onge.

The working group will be composed of representatives from the various sectors concerned, including health and education, and from municipalities.

“The committee will think about the types of situations that would lead a person to have their face covered versus not covered,” she said.

Another part of the law — the section that imposes a framework for how requests for religious accommodation should be treated — will only come into effect later. The government will issue a decree by next July, after it has produced more detailed guidelines.

Along with Muslim organizations and civil-rights groups, Montreal’s Mayor Denis Coderre denounced the legislation, saying his city, which houses the majority of immigrants, would bear the brunt of the law’s provisions.

Critics also say that Bill 62, which was first presented in 2015, takes aim at Quebec’s most vulnerable citizens, targeting a minority community for political purposes.

Supporters of the bill like Quebec’s Premier Philippe Couillard say the law enshrines respect for public discourse and communication

Quebec’s Premier, Philippe Couillard, has been under intense pressure to support the legislation, fearing to look soft on issues such as identity as an election looms just one year away.

‘A covered face isn’t only about religion,’ Couillard said.

‘You speak to me, I speak to you, I see your face, you see mine. It’s part of communications. It’s a question in my mind that is not solely religious, it’s human,’ he added.

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Bamidele Ogunberu

Bamidele Ogunberu

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