The passing of Bill 62 by the Quebec National Assembly is a move that has divided Canadians across the country. The legislation, which was introduced by the Liberal government, bans public workers and users of government services from wearing face coverings, including niqabs.
Quebec has been on a ban frenzy as of late. Some of its bans, like the ones imposed on fracking, bonfires, smoking on restaurant patios and flavoured cigarettes, are rooted in some logic. Its other bans, however, have not been so sensical. Quebec has both considered and carried out a slew of controversial bans, including the use of “anglicisms”, the ownership of pitbulls, and even the sale of the Super Nintendo.
But perhaps the province’s most ludicrous ban to date is its forbiddance of wearing face coverings (which include those that serve as religious symbols) when accessing public services. The rationale that the law is intended to establish religious neutrality is one that any reasonable citizen cannot get behind because it is simply unconstitutional. It is not Canadian.
At this point, religious neutrality is just fancy wording for hostile secularism. It seems to be nothing more than a front for targeting a minority group that just so happens to abide by a different set of beliefs. Such philosophy has no place in a country that thrives on diversity and is so respected for its tolerance.
There is no justification for passing a bill that conflicts with our country’s Charter of Rights. It violates people’s rights to freedom of religion, and their rights to protections. The justice minister defends the law with the alternative argument that face coverings are problematic when it comes to matters of security and identification; however, it is unclear what threat they truly pose. Besides, a person does not have to be masked to commit a crime on public transit or to remain unidentified on CCTV surveillance.
Religious exemptions for the law will not be determined until next July, which opens up almost a full year of potential discrimination against Muslim women wearing niqabs. If any of them were disallowed access to public services during that time period, the law would immediately be challenged by the court.
The government sought a loophole to this by applying the ban to all face coverings and not just religious ones, but they would still have to justify imposing the ban with the religious freedoms of individuals in rapt regard.
The bill will likely be met with legal challenges that will arise as a result of existing protections in Quebec. While a significant number of Canadians support the ban, many others believe that the overturn of the bill is vital to maintaining our Canadian values of fairness and inclusion.