Quebec women wearing the niqab and who want to ride the bus, go for a medical check-up, visit the library or meet with their child’s teacher are now required by law to uncover their faces while receiving provincial and municipal government services.
The National Assembly of Quebec passed the Bill 62 back in October, which means that Muslim women wearing a niqab have to uncover their faces in order to access health services, attend school, and ride a public bus or Metro. The law does not ban the wearing of religious signs by the employees of the State in a position of authority, like the judges, the prison wardens or the police officers. LaCroix reports that the citizens will be able to ask for reasonable exemptions or for “compromises”, under the terms of the Charter of the Rights and Freedoms which guarantees freedom of religious beliefs. The requests will be treated on a case-by-case basis.
According to the National Post, Quebec’s National Assembly adopted the controversial Bill 62 as the Liberal government’s answer to a decade-long debate over the accommodations given to religious minorities in the province. The bill passed despite opposition from the Québécois Party (PQ), the Coalition Future Quebec (CAQ) and Interdependent Quebec (QS). Philippe Couillard’s Liberal majority gained the vote.
Journal Metro reported that Quebec has become the first in North America to carry out such a law. Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commented, saying “It is not the role of the government to tell women what they can or can’t wear”. The law does not specify which face coverings are not allowed but the debate has been widely focused on the niqab, the Islamic veil which covers everything except the eyes. Bill 62 will affect public sector employees working at publicly funded hospitals and health centres, who are parts of religious minorities, such as bureaucrats, police officers, teachers, and bus drivers, as well as doctors, midwives, and dentists.
Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée has maintained the bill’s requirement that government services are provided and received with the face uncovered is not aimed at any religious group. “Having your face uncovered is a legitimate question of communication, identification and security,” Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée stated in the National Post.