Quebec pass controversial bill banning face coverings

Quebec lawmakers have passed a religious neutrality bill banning face coverings

Quebec pass controversial bill banning face coverings

Calling it a North American first, the Quebec government passed legislation Wednesday forbidding anyone from receiving or giving a public service with their face covered — and even while riding the bus.

The opposition said the law doesn’t go far enough, while members of the province’s Islamic community said it targets Muslim women and violates their fundamental right to express their religion as they see fit.

“This has been a debate that’s been tearing Quebec apart for the past few years,” Premier Philippe Couillard told reporters. “We need to hail this exercise. We need to remind people we are the only jurisdiction in North America to have legislated on this issue.”

Bill 62 is the Liberal government’s attempt to enshrine into law what is considered to be a fundamental Quebec value that the state should not promote religion of any kind.

Due to the historical omnipresence of the Roman Catholic Church in the lives of Quebecers, some activists in the province see the movement for secularism — including laws banning religious expression in public institutions — as the natural evolution of modern Quebec.

The Liberals’ bill is not as strict as the values charter tabled by the Parti Quebecois but which did not become law because the Liberals swept the sovereigntist party from power in 2014.

Bill 62 has two basic components: it bans the wearing of face coverings for people giving or receiving a service from the state and it offers a framework outlining how authorities should grant accommodation requests based on religious beliefs.

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.”

Related: Islamophobia on rise in Canada, Muslim leader tells vigil in Victoria

In Ottawa, the Bloc Quebecois asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Commons whether he could categorically state his government would not challenge the law.

Trudeau responded by saying he would “continue to work to make sure Canadians are protected by the charter (federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms) while at the same time respecting the choices made by various parliamentarians at different levels.”

“But here, at the federal level, we defend the rights of all Canadians.”

Trudeau later tweeted a link to a speech he gave in 2015 condemning face-covering bans, adding that his position hasn’t changed.

“It is a cruel joke to claim you are liberating people from oppression by dictating in law what they can and cannot wear,” he said in the speech.

How the new law will be enforced is still unclear, particularly for bus drivers who fear becoming the fashion police.

Quebec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee, who tabled the bill, said guidelines on how the law would be enforced would be phased in by next June 30, after consultations.

She told reporters the law also affects women who choose to use public transit while wearing Islamic face coverings, such as the niqab or burka.

“The obligation to uncover your face is for duration of the public service rendered,” she said. “Not just for the veiled woman, but think also of hoods or tinted glasses.”

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said he remains uncomfortable with the legislation, especially as it applies to the city’s public transit.

“What does it mean? We have niqab police as bus drivers?” Coderre asked. “Will we refuse to provide them (women wearing face coverings) services if they are freezing with their children?”

A spokesman for the union representing Montreal bus drivers, ticket takers and subway employees says it isn’t interested in enforcing the law.

“Bus drivers don’t want to have the responsibility of applying Bill 62 at this time,” Ronald Boisrond of the Canadian Union of Public Employees said in an interview.

Andre Lamoureux, political scientist and spokesman for a Quebec-based movement for secularism, said the niqab or burka ”has no place — not even on the bus.”

His group was one of many who testified during the legislative hearings into Bill 62.

“(The niqab) is not a religious sign,” Lamoureux said. “It’s a political symbol of the enslavement and de-empowerment of women that is supported by the most repressive regimes on the planet.”

Related: Are Trump policies fuelling racism in Canada?

Eve Torres, a spokeswoman for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said the face veil itself is not the issue.

“Whether it pleases Mr. Lamoureux or me — that’s not the question,” she said. “The Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms allows women to express their way of interpreting their religion.

“Whether I’m OK with it or not is not the point.”

Lamoureux said the majority of Quebecers are against the niqab and the burka due to historical considerations.

“Before the 1960s there was terrible social pressure on women, on couples,” he said. “The church was against abortion, controlled women’s bodies. When women went to the confessional, the priest would demand they get pregnant. The church was everywhere, in the schools. Even my hockey coach was a Jesuit.”

Related: Protesters clash with Quebec city police

He said Quebecers don’t care if people practise their religion in private, but they are sensitive to signs that religiosity is re-entering public institutions.

Torres said the government has switched roles with the church.

“The government has passed a law forcing women to uncover a part of their body against their will,” she said.

“I am aware of the past, but the past also tells us that women have come a long way but there is still a lot of work to do. This law does not add anything to the advancement of women in society.”

Another spokesman with the National Council of Canadian Muslims said the organization is “looking at its options” with regards to a possible court challenge.

Fo Niemi of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations said the law could eventually be challenged in front of the United Nations.

“It is foreseeable…the law will end up before the UN because it can be deemed to be a violation of certain rights protected by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,” Niemi said.

Vallee said she believes her bill passes the legal test.

“In every piece of legislation, there’s a risk of it being contested by those who don’t agree with it,” Vallee said. “We consider that this bill is solid, it’s strong, it’s a bill that’s respectful of civil rights.”

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kelowna City Hall. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna’s 2021 preliminary budget proposes 4.27% tax increase

Proposed budget calls for eight new RCMP officers

Good Samaritan Mountainview Village located at 1540 KLO Road in Kelowna. (Good Samaritan Society)
First long-term care resident dies from COVID-19 in Interior Health

Man in his 80s dies following virus outbreak at Mountainview Village

(File)
One death and 82 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

1,981 total cases, 609 are active and those individuals are on isolation

The former BC Tree Fruits office building at 1473 Water Street has been sold. (Contributed)
BC Tree Fruits downtown Kelowna office sold for $7.5M

Historic building sold for 44 per cent more than the $5.2-million asking price

Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP was called to a report of a fight at an Okanagan Landing Halloween party Saturday, Oct. 31, but issued the homeowner a ticket  under the COVID-19 Related Measures Act for having too many people at the party. (Black Press file photo)
West Kelowna man, dog rescued from carbon monoxide poisoning

The man was quickly transported to the hospital

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

Police responded to W.L. Seaton Secondary after reports of young man attempting to smash car windows in the student parking lot on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. (Facebook)
Case of COVID-19 at North Okanagan high school

Member of W.L. Seaton Secondary exposure Nov. 26

The aftermath of the 3 a.m. fire in Keremeos. (Keremeos Fire Department)
Fire and explosion wakes Keremeos residents

A motorhome was consumed and a boat severely damaged after the 3 a.m. fire

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

Margaret Holm
HOLM: Better Bicycle Lanes

Margaret Holm writes about solutions to global warming

The newly opened Switzmalph Child Care Centre at Salmon Arm offers culturally enriched programs featuring the Secwépemc culture but is open to children of all heritages. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Video: Switzmalph Child Care Centre shares culture with Shuswap community

New daycare at Salmon Arm offers Secwépemc culturally enriched programs to children of all heritages

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Man walking in the winter downtown.
Dyer: The role of air tightness testing in energy efficiency

Kristy Dyer has a background in art and physics and consulted for Silicon Valley

Most Read