An amended version of Bill 62, An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality and, in particular, to provide a framework for religious accommodation requests in certain bodies to foster respect for religious neutrality of the state and aimed in particular to frame requests for religious accommodations in certain organizations passed third reading on October 18, 2017, with a vote of 66-51. It is now awaiting royal assent to become law.
With the passing of Bill 62, Quebec becomes the first jurisdiction in North America to ban religious face coverings for public services. Several countries have already implemented or are in the process of implementing similar laws (i.e., France, Netherlands, Belgium, Bulgaria, Egypt, Switzerland, Italy, Chad, Niger, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon).
The pending new Quebec law will require all citizens giving and receiving public services to do so with their faces uncovered including while using public transit or attending public schools, colleges and universities. This rule is intended to ensure the quality of communication between people, to validate the person’s identity and to promote security.
However, opponents to the Bill argue that Bill 62 directly discriminates against Muslim women. Moreover, Muslim women cover their faces and/or bodies with the niqab or burka. The burka completely covers the body, and the niqab covers the head and face.
Although the Bill allows for religious accommodation if certain conditions are met, it remains unclear how religious accommodation requests will be processed or evaluated.
All opposition parties voted against Bill 62 not because it would discriminate against Muslim women but they claimed it did not go far enough and should extend to law enforcement and the judiciary.
We summarized the requirements under Bill 62 in our previous Slaw article here. Amendments to the Bill saw the legislation apply to municipalities, metropolitan communities, the National Assembly and public transit organizations.
Civil rights advocates and Muslim groups have vowed to challenge the application and constitutionality of the law in court.
The Quebec government has stated they will work with public services, including municipalities, schools and public daycare centers, to establish guidelines for how it will be enforced. Those guidelines are not expected before next summer.
Premier Philippe Couillard acknowledged the law could face a legal challenge, but said it was crafted to be compatible with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.