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Canada: Quebec law bans niqab, burka

19th Oct 2017
Canada: Quebec law bans niqab, burka

By Barry Ellsworth


TRENTON, Ont. (AA): Muslim women will be forced to remove their face coverings and burkas to access public services, including riding a bus, under a new law passed Wednesday by the Quebec National Assembly.

Bill 62, known as the religious neutrality legislation, forbids public workers and those who wish to access a public service from wearing a face covering, including the niqab and burka. Public workers include teachers, day care workers and doctors.

The bill was introduced in 2015 but was shelved after the shooting at a Quebec City mosque, where six Muslims died while at prayer Jan. 29.

The government wants to keep deep separation between state and religion – to reduce the presence of conspicuous religious symbols in public. It is considered a fundamental Quebec value that the state not promote religion.

Quebec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee said the law is necessary for “communication reasons, identification reasons and security reasons.

“This is a bill about le vivre ensemble [living together in harmony], it’s a bill about guidelines and clearly establishes the neutrality of the state,” Vallee said.

But the Canadian Council of Muslim Women’s Samaa Elibyari said the law is disturbing because it focuses on Muslims.

“It gives the impression that we are a problem,” Elibyari said.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre has criticized the bill and said the province has no right to tell city workers what to wear.

He also worried about employees like bus drivers telling riders they have to remove anything that covers their faces before boarding a municipal bus.

Vallee said a woman wearing a niqab or burka would have to remove the clothing while using public transit.

Guidelines on how to apply the law and who will do it will be phased in by the end of next June, after consultations with groups, Vallee said.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims said it is studying its options, including the possibility of a court challenge.

Vallee said she expected the bill to be tested.

“In every piece of legislation, there’s a risk of it being contested by those who don’t agree with it,” she said.

Coderre said there could be tense situations, particularly on buses.

“We have niqab police as bus drivers?” he said. “Will we refuse to provide them services if they are freezing with their children?”

Officials said the Muslim community would have an opportunity to give opinions on the face covering ban in the near future but it is possible to apply for an exemption.

And those who provide spiritual guidance are exempted.

Others have said the new law will not stand up to a legal challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Beyond the face-covering ban, the law sets out broad limits for all requests for religious accommodation.

It says a request has to be “serious,” respect the right to equality between men and women and “the right of every person to be treated without discrimination.”

The law also details under what circumstances employers and schools should refuse requests for time off for religious reason.

The new law also bars subsidized daycares from teaching children specific religious beliefs.

Additional report by The Muslim News

[Photo: Quebec National Assembly by Paul VanDerWerf/Creative Commons]

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