Quebec Liberal Government passes Bill 46, banning face coverings in provincial and municipal services

Quebec Liberal Government passes Bill 46, banning face coverings in provincial and municipal services

Religious attire such as niqabs and hijabs under the jurisdiction of new legislation

By: Kaelen Pelaia, Staff Writer

As of Wednesday October 18th, the Quebec provincial government has introduced new legislation restricting the legality of face coverings while administering or receiving government services at the municipal and provincial levels.

This law is the Liberal party’s response to the decade-long debate over the accommodation of religious minorities which have made Quebec their home in recent years.

The bill passed with opposition from the other Quebec provincial parties, who argued that the bill does not take enough steps to restrict the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols. Stephanie Vallee, the Justice Minister of the province, insists that this bill does not intentionally target specific religious groups, and that “having one’s face uncovered is a legitimate question of communication, identification, and security.”

PC: Graham Hughes – Canadian Press

Though initially the bill only included provincial services, it was expanded by the Liberal government to include municipal services such as public transit and subsidized housing offices. The bill will also be in effect for the full duration of services rendered, which means that a woman boarding a bus wearing a hijab would have to not only remove her face covering upon boarding, but also for the entire duration of the bus ride. However, the government has given few instructions to civil servants as to how this law should be enforced.

There have been many critics of this new legislation, who argue that this bill takes the wrong steps in failing to prevent the alienation of the already polarized Muslim minority in Quebec following the rise of ultra-right-wing rhetoric.

Religious accommodation has been a trying concern in Quebec ever since the issue was raised in 2013 by the Parti Quebecois’ introduction of a ‘Charter of Values’ that would have prohibited civil servants from wearing any outward religious symbols. While the PQ was defeated in the election, the question of religious accommodation has remained in the political discourse in Quebec ever since.

One of the main motivations behind the support of the bill is a concern that the Liberal party has not been taking the appropriate steps in protecting Quebec identity in an increasingly multicultural society; however, the critics of the bill have pointed out that this position is an over-the-top reactionary response that puts an already-slighted minority under further suspicion. There has also been criticism against the government for espousing secularism and the separation of religion in government, while also keeping a large crucifix in the provincial government building.

Though the bill is awaiting approval by the lieutenant-governor, several groups have commented on the bill’s infringement on religious freedoms. Eve Torres, representative of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, has remarked that the law will “almost certainly be challenged in court.”

Prime Minister Trudeau has also commented on the legislation, saying that “it is not the place of the government to tell a woman what she should or shouldn’t be wearing. As a federal government, we are going to take our responsibility seriously and look carefully at what the implications are.”

Though Quebec has the right, as does any province, to pass its own legislation, Trudeau assures that Ottawa will be keeping a close eye on the proceedings.

The Quebec government has since come forward with apology and clarification regarding the bill. “No one will be thrown off public transit, denied emergency health care or be chased out of a public library,” Quebec’s justice minister, Stéphanie Vallée remarks. “We do not have the intention of setting up an uncovered-face police.” Contrary to previous statements, Vallee now says that the bill would only be in effect at the moment of identification, or in court-related meetings and proceedings.

Controversy still surrounds Bill 62, even as it remains unenforced, and protesters have already taken to the streets around the Quebec Parliament, wearing masks and scarves to cover their faces. Many have remarked that it is unconstitutional for the government to police religious clothing, and that Bill 62 comes into conflict with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as Quebec’s provincial equivalent.