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Quebec’s burqa-banning bill is on track to become law

The legislation would bar many public servants — and citizens seeking public services — from wearing face-coverings.

by Justin Ling
Oct 6 2017, 8:00am

Legislation in Quebec that would ban government employees from wearing religious face veils on the job is set for a final vote in the provincial legislature this month, and will almost certainly become law.

Thanks to changes made in a parliamentary committee this week, and adopted by the National Assembly, the bill is stricter than what was initially proposed.

The legislation was originally tabled by Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard after his 2014 election victory, where he ousted the Parti Quebecois, who had proposing their own “charter of values” that would have banned a litany of religious symbolism in government institutions.

Couillard’s legislation, bill 62, was more limited: It would require government ministers, bureaucrats, teachers, and doctors to work with their faces uncovered, with the same rule applying to any citizen seeking government services.

Even if his bill doesn’t go as far as the original charter of values, Couillard’s plan was criticized as Islamophobic by rights groups.

That legislation was stiffened this week in an all-party committee.

The amendments, added by committee and approved by the legislature on Thursday by a vote of 57 to 46, would expand the legislation to cover municipal services, including public transportation, and all elected members of the National Assembly and municipal governments.

The opposition Parti Quebecois were seeking additional amendments to expand the scope of the bill even further by banning all religious symbols for public sector workers, but those were shot down on Thursday.

“The government is imposing its solution on Quebeckers, instead of hearing their concerns. Their refusal to clearly codify the religious neutrality of the state into law sends the message that the state must submit to all religious doctrines. In other words, the bill does nothing to protect the state from religious influence, a crucial principle for Quebeckers,” Agnès Maltais, the Parti Quebecois spokesperson on religious neutrality, said in a statement.

The bill will face a final vote when the legislature returns on the week of October 16.

Even if his bill doesn’t go as far as the original charter of values, Couillard’s plan was criticized as Islamophobic by rights groups. The last federal election saw the three national leaders duking it out over Quebec’s plan.

But ever since the legislation was tabled in June 2015, it has only crawled through Quebec’s National Assembly, leading many to conclude that it had been little more than a political prop and that it was never intended to become law.

Over that time, Couillard has oscillated on the religious freedom question, from rejecting proposals to expand bill 62 in February (insisting that doing so would give Quebec “a black eye internationally”) to openly saying it is impossible to “disconnect” terror attacks “from Islam in general.”

Trudeau has slammed any attempt to impose limits on religious dress for women, but has not said what he’ll do

There is an ongoing debate on the federal level about what should be done if Quebec adopts the legislation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has slammed any attempt to impose limits on religious dress for women, but has not said what he’ll do, should Quebec pass the bill.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh — who, himself, wears a turban — caused a stir within his own party by railing against the legislation, although has repeatedly said he’ll leave the issue to be determined by the courts in Quebec.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, had adopted their own burqa-ban, for citizenship ceremonies, until it was struck down by the courts. They had proposed a broader ban, similar to what Couillard proposed, but were voted out of office before being able to enact any such law.