November 19, 2017

The law is a protector of individuals, their society, and their basic rights. When the law is based in prejudice, the injustice that occurs is not one that can be remedied quite as easily. On October 18th, 2017, amidst great controversy and debate, Bill 62 was passed in Quebec, which states that citizens cannot cover their faces while using or providing public services. This has alarmed many Muslim citizens of Quebec because the new law is targeted towards women who wear face-covering niqabs or burqas.

The bill, as written, states: “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.” This includes all government institutions and services such as schools, hospitals, daycares, and public transit. Although this bill accommodates for occupational needs to cover the face for other safety and security reasons, it does not outline whether it will exempt religious needs.

Despite the province of Quebec debating upon more religious neutrality within its borders, this bill specifically isolates and discriminates against the female Muslim residents of Quebec. Canada is a nation that values diversity, which religious neutrality cannot offer. If Quebec were to promote this ideal, it would contradict our Constitution’s Charter. Everyone has freedom of religion, and so there is no religious neutrality (in which the government would assimilate all religions) that can be imposed on the people without serious disregard of this fundamental freedom.

The Justice Minister of Quebec has addressed the concern of discrimination at a news conference in which she stated, “We have not prohibited any kind of religious symbols. It’s not a bill about what a person can wear in the public sphere.” However, she later contradicted this statement by stating the requirement for one to have an uncovered face throughout the entire duration of a public transit ride.

Discrimination and marginalization are not Canadian values, but this recent issue seems to suggest differently. Freedom of religion entails the right to worship and act according to your  faith. No matter what religion, the law must protect all under its nation. The decision of whether this bill is just is now in the hands of the Quebec Superior Court.