What you need to know about Quebec’s face-covering ban

Photo credit:  Michael Swan/Flickr

Quebec’s not-so-newly passed law known as Bill 62 has banned face coverings for public workers and anyone receiving public services.

Proposed by Premier Philippe Couillard’s liberal government and passed in October of 2017, the ban is officially known as an act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality.

In other words, women wearing face coverings for religious purposes are required to uncover their faces in order to give or receive public services in Quebec.

This legislation mainly affects Muslim women who wear niqabs or burqas. A niqab covers a woman’s face except for the eyes, and a burqa covers the entire face, with mesh over the eyes. The bill would affect a person’s ability to engage with public services anywhere from working a government job to simply riding the bus.

Quebec is the first jurisdiction in North America to ban face coverings for public services. However, some places in Europe like France and Switzerland have had similar laws in effect for years. These laws sometimes even result in hefty fines for simply wearing a face veil.

The bad news is that this law is seen as a complete violation of religious freedom, and perceived as discriminatory against Muslim women. Executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims called this ban “an unnecessary law with made-up solution to an invented problem.” The good news is that thanks to a recent ruling, this law cannot enter into force until it goes through judicial review due to the irreparable harm that it will cause Muslim women.

After the passing of the law in 2017, the province was left without a detailed framework through which the law should be interpreted and enforced. A few weeks ago the law was suspended yet again—a win for religious rights and religious freedom.

There is no justification for asking someone to remove a piece of clothing, religious or not, if it does not pose a threat to the individual or the security of others. The law itself runs contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms—a legal doctrine and enshrined Canadian doctrine. More than anything else, the law would open the province up to tangled legal challenges. As stated in the Canadian Charter, everyone is subject to the freedom of “conscience and religion,” as well as the “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression…”

Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée states that women who wear a niqab or burka are eligible to an exemption to the law on religious grounds. Seeing that Muslim women wearing the religious face coverings are most affected by this law, why is it being implemented if the vast majority effected are able to bypass it?

This law targets Muslim women while failing to promise any effective or positive change in Quebec’s public safety. It seems only a matter of time before Bill 62 comes up against the supposedly incontrovertible Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.