A Quebec judge on Friday temporarily suspended part of the province’s new religious neutrality law that prohibits anyone who covers their face from accessing or providing basic public services such as health care, public transit, and social assistance.
Earlier this month, civil rights groups and women who wear the niqab, filed a constitutional challenge against Bill 62 that was passed by the French-speaking province this fall. They argued the burqa ban — the first of its kind in North America — violated religious freedoms and promoted Islamophobia and intolerance.
Quebec Superior Court Justice Babak Barin ruled that the face-covering portion of the law must be put on hold until the government creates specific guidelines on how the face-covering restrictions would be implemented.
Quebec has said it won’t have any such guidelines ready until next year, according to the CBC. The province defended the face-covering ban in court as necessary for the government to properly identify those receiving services, and argued that it did not discriminate against any particular religious group.
In response to concerns that the law would foster further anti-Muslim sentiment in Quebec and compromise religious expression, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau initially said that it wasn’t up the federal government to weigh in on the issue. He subsequently backtracked, and said that his government was monitoring the Quebec face-covering law and how it would be carried out in practice.
“I don’t think it’s the business of a government to legislate what a woman should or shouldn’t wear,” said Trudeau at the time. “We’re listening to the questions being asked about it and, internally, we’re in the process of studying the different processes we could initiate or that we could join.”
The Quebec law mirrors laws that have been adopted in Europe and elsewhere. This October, Austria banned full face veils in schools and courts, and Austrian police officers have been granted the ability to force women to uncover their faces and face a possible fine for not doing so.