On October 18th, the Quebec government passed a law which effectively prohibits members of the public from wearing any sort of face coverings (including scarves and large sunglasses) while receiving or offering public services. Known as Bill 62, this law is the Quebec Liberal party’s take on legislating the province’s adherence to religious neutrality. Bill 62 was immediately met with criticism and confusion from all sides. Many criticized the bill, claiming that it targeted a specific religious minority (Muslim women who wear a niqab or burka) and that it is unconstitutional to legislate what people can wear or not wear. Others had concerns about how the law would be enforced. Furthermore, municipal politicians said it was unfair to burden public servants such as bus drivers with the responsibility of enforcing this law.
Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée has since clarified some of these concerns at a news conference on October 24th. While it originally seemed that people would have to remove face coverings throughout the entire time of receiving or offering a public service, Vallée explained that the law would only apply when it is required for communication, identification or security purposes. Vallée clarified that someone can still take the bus without being forced to reveal their face as long as photo ID is not required. However, if photo ID is required (such as in the case of a discounted student or senior OPUS card), you would have to identify yourself by showing your face, but you would not be obliged to show your face for the entire duration of the ride. Similarly, someone can sit in a waiting room at the hospital with their face covered but would have to reveal their face as soon as they are in direct contact with an employee. As long as there is a need for communication, identification or security, people will have to remove their face coverings. People would have to reveal their faces when picking up their child from a public daycare, when interacting with library staff, and in the classroom when they are being taught at a publicly funded educational institution. The law would not apply to situations when no direct interaction with a public service employee occurs, such as in parks or on the sidewalk.
As of now, there are no sanctions listed for those who refuse to comply with the new law. Vallée has stated that no one will be refused emergency treatment because of it and that no one will be kicked off a bus. As Vallée put it, “If you don’t get on, you won’t get kicked off.”
Vallée also stated that religious accommodations could be made for Muslim women who wear a niqab or burka, but that these would be made on a “case by case” basis. As for how exactly these exemptions will be made, the province has promised to draw up guidelines by June 2018.
Since the law’s passing, multiple politicians and other figures of authority have spoken up about Bill 62. The Quebec Liberal party’s main opponents, the Parti Québécois and the Coalition Avenir Québec, argue that the new law doesn’t go far enough: both think the bill should ban more religious symbols, and that it’s too easy to opt out of the law for religious reasons. On the other side of the spectrum, Montreal’s mayor Denis Coderre, as well as the premiers of Ontario and Alberta have criticized the bill for being discriminatory and impossible to enforce. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also stated that the government doesn’t have any business telling a woman what she should or shouldn’t be wearing. Lastly, concerning how the new bill affects McGill University, Suzanne Fortier has advised staff to carry on with their functions as usual.
Makaristos via Wikimedia Commons
Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press