Quebec’s ban on face-covering targets Muslim women
Matty Taghipour // Contributor
A new bill coming into force in Quebec has caused quite the controversy across Canada. Quebec’s Liberal government created Bill 62 to encourage secular behaviour within the province. However, human rights advocates, politicians and citizens have voiced their opposition and believe the new bill to be oppressive. Bill 62, passed in October, enforced a ban on face covering, undoubtedly targeting Muslim women.
Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee disagreed with the backlash. “It’s a bill about the way public services are rendered between two individuals,” she told the Canadian Press. “It is not a bill about what a person can wear in the public sphere, when they walk on the street, when they’re in a park. The bill is not about that.”
Shortly after the bill was passed, Vallee set out to clarify misconceptions regarding the new legislation by indicating situations where citizens may or may not be refused governmental services.
According to the Justice Minister, individuals with face coverings will have to uncover their veil when boarding the bus with a fare that requires photo identification and will be permitted to cover their face once their identity is confirmed. Similar behaviour is expected for alternative public services.
Bill 62 is a reminder that our Constitutional Rights as Canadians are in no way guaranteed. Even though the legislation does not specifically name Muslim women, it’s clear that they will be the ones most affected.
In a – not so – subtle attempt made by the Quebec government, the “Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality” does everything, but remain neutral. According to the new law, women wearing a niqab or burka are not permitted to receive governmental services, hold a government position, see a physician and may be prevented from boarding public transit services unless they choose to reveal their face.
Although the Quebec Liberal government is adamant the bill isn’t targeting Muslim women, there is no mention of subsequent attire, behaviour, or any other religious garment except for the covering of the face. Additionally, to claim that a province in a country that is often described as being a cultural mosaic, is objective with regards to faith, is a complete fallacy.
The reality is that the government in this scenario isn’t neutral. Take one look at the crucifix hanging in the National Assembly and the preamble of the Canadian Charter referencing God. Although these gestures are mainly a formality, they remind us that the state has a clear gender, skin color, religion and socio-economic status. In a similar manner, the citizens of Quebec consist of a mixed race, faith and are in no way secular.
According to the 2011 National Household Assembly survey, Muslims consist of the second largest religious group in Canada with 3.2 per cent of the population and Montreal representing the second largest Muslim population with just over 221,000 Muslims.
Despite the unruly effects this bill could have on Muslim women, it is estimated that 76 per cent of Quebecois are in support of the law while 68 per cent of Canadians are in favour of a similar ban in their own province. For a country that is often described as being tolerant, accepting and multicultural, these statistics convey a different message.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to look closely at the bill and create conversation surrounding its implications, stating in his official response that his aim is to abide by the Charter and fight for the rights of Canadians. The Prime Minister commented, “I don’t think it should be the government’s business to tell a woman what she should or shouldn’t be wearing,” implying that the bill may be challenged by the federal government in the future.