Quebec bars people in face coverings from receiving public services

The Quebec provincial legislature on Wednesday barred people who are wearing face coverings from receiving public services or working in government jobs, a move that opponents criticised as unfairly targeting Muslims.
The Quebec provincial legislature on Wednesday barred people who are wearing face coverings from receiving public services or working in government jobs, a move that opponents criticised as unfairly targeting Muslims. PHOTO: NYTIMES

QUEBEC CITY (NYTIMES) - The Quebec provincial legislature on Wednesday (Oct 18) barred people who are wearing face coverings from receiving public services or working in government jobs, a move that opponents criticised as unfairly singling out Muslims.

The law will prohibit public workers like doctors and teachers from covering their faces at work, and will effectively bar Muslim women who wear face veils from using public transportation or obtaining public healthcare services, although it will be possible to apply for exemptions.

Proponents said the legislation would ensure state religious neutrality, and Quebec's Minister of Justice Stephanie Vallee, who sponsored the Bill, said it would foster social cohesion.

But Canadian Muslim groups have long complained that the legislation, which languished for years before it was passed, 66-51, on Wednesday, would penalise Muslims, particularly in a province where few women wear face coverings.

"This is an unnecessary law with a made-up solution to an invented problem," said Ihsaan Gardee, the executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

"We don't have hordes of women in niqabs trying to access or work in public services," Gardee said, referring to a type of head scarf that covers much of the face. "Rather than helping to facilitate inclusion, as its proponents claim, it excludes citizens in the public sphere and reinforces the marginalisation and stigmatisation of Canadian Muslims."

Legal experts dismissed the law as unconstitutional and said they expected the courts to strike it down. "It will open up a Pandora's box on enforcement," said Julius H. Grey, a human rights lawyer in Montreal, who argued that the law could deprive people of medical care.

Doctors, midwives and dentists paid by the government are allowed to cover their faces only for occupational requirements. But exactly how the law will be enforced remains unclear.

The lawmakers who voted for the Bill all belong to the Quebec Liberal Party, which has a majority in the provincial legislature, known officially as the National Assembly of Quebec.

Passing a ban on face coverings fulfils a campaign promise the Liberals made before the 2014 provincial election.