Quebec’s Religious Neutrality of the State Bill Passed

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.

Comments

  1. Will the law restricting face coverings restrict women and men from wearing makeup and beards? What about a prothetic such as a wig or fake mustache or beard? Costume makeup for Halloween?

  2. Sally, try reading the bill. Section 9 makes it pretty clear that you’ve set up a straw man for yourself to kick:

    “Personnel members of bodies must exercise their functions with their face
    uncovered, unless they have to cover their face, in particular because of their
    working conditions or because of occupational or task-related requirements.

    “Similarly, persons receiving services from such personnel members must
    have their face uncovered.

    “An accommodation that involves an adaptation of either of those rules is
    possible but must be refused if the refusal is warranted in the context for security
    or identification reasons or because of the level of communication required.”

  3. Sally… statements such as yours “…wearing makeup and beards? What about a prothetic such as a wig or fake mustache or beard? Costume makeup for Halloween?” is what incites misinformation and confusion about the law or the intent of a law.

  4. Actually, there was a recent story about a PR firm in Austria that hired a man to wear a shark costume and he was fined by the police for concealing his face (though apparently done as a PR stunt and to protest the law, genuinely fined 150 Euros for violating the law).

    http://www.dw.com/en/austria-burqa-ban-pr-agency-told-man-to-dress-as-shark-to-violate-new-law/a-40872491

    Even if the law or intent of the Quebec law is not to forbid e.g. someone employed by the municipality from dressing as Bonhomme, it’s not unreasonable to wonder about the consequences of the law which may extend beyond the intent of the law especially if organizations or people are risk-averse and haven’t paid for legal opinions to know exactly what they can and can’t do.

  5. Just to echo Sally’s comment (which seems to have been misunderstood) – if “this rule is intended to ensure the quality of communication between people, to validate the person’s identity and to promote security” – then what does it have to do with “religious neutrality” – shouldn’t it apply to all situations where faces are concealed?

  6. To my knowledge John it should apply to all face covering that prevents a person from being identified when receiving services. However, since when wearing makeup or a beard considered face covering that would prevent somebody to be identified, when photos in your identity cards, usually requested to receive government services, have you in make up or wearing that beard. Also, you would not be wearing you sunglasses when getting your passport for example, because we automatically always remove sunglasses when we enter a building or talk to someone (in a polite society.) Same thing for winter clothes, you do not keep your scarf over your mouth when you enter a building or talk to somebody, especially a government official.

    May I also add, since when do you go to get government services or give government services dress in a clown suit or any Halloween costume for that matter.

    So why bring up such arguments. That was my problem with Sally’s comment.

    This said, I do think that preventing somebody from taking public transit because they are wearing a face covering goes to far. Although on October 24, Quebec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee published guidelines on how to apply the new law. She stressed that Bill 62 only applies when there is an interaction between a public service provider and a receiver. I do not know why she needed to state that since I thought that was the point of the law! She did say guidelines on how to apply the law would be phased in over a period of several months after consultations. So let’s hope those guidelines help direct those who have to apply or submit to the law, can do it with less confusion or misunderstanding.

    As for the religious neutrality of the State, yes John, the law did not do enough to substantiate that point. It should have. There is nothing in my opinion in Bill 62 that covers this matter. Forcing people to stop concealing their faces when receiving government services plays a very minor role in the discussion of separation of church and state (secularism), especially when you allow other religious symbols and observances within the government, law enforcement, education, health and the judiciary. In 2013, the Parti Quebecois “Quebec Charter of Values” that would have also imposed religious neutrality to all state personnel, including in education and health care did a better job of explaining “religious neutrality”, and how it would work, but it did go to far in targeting the Muslim population.

  7. Thank you for your reply Yosie. I am glad to hear that you think “preventing somebody from taking public transit because they are wearing a face covering goes too far.” Scarves on the bus are quite common, in winter, where I come from.

  8. I would think that if one really wanted to foster “state religious neutrality” it would be by ensuring that the state acted neutrally towards all those of all religions, as well as the non-religious. Singling out a single religion or religious practice strikes me as the antithesis of religious neutrality. And exactly what mischief is the bill fixing? Nothing at all.

  9. I mentioned Bonhomme because while it’s been a few years since I’ve gone to Carnival, isn’t there someone paid by the municipality dressed as the official Bonhomme waving to people? In Toronto I see many people wearing surgical masks and similar out of a fear of disease, it covers most of their face but is not I assume (given how often I see it) due to actual medical advice, would that be a problem? As for sunglasses and scarves, I wear prescription glasses and sunglasses I’ll sometimes be inside still wearing sunglasses and not having my other glasses with me, if that makes me impolite so be it, I’d rather be able to see.

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