The Canadian province of Quebec has passed a law banning face coverings which prohibits public workers from wearing the niqab or burqa and bars citizens from wearing a veil when riding public transit or receiving government services. IT is believed to be the first such law to have been passed in North America, reports The Guardian.
The law which came into effect on Wednesday has been slammed by critics who claim it targets Muslim women and will fuel the province’s simmering debate on identity, religion and tolerance.
The law was introduced by the province’s Liberal government to address the issue of state neutrality. Defending the ban, Philippe Couillard, the premier of Quebec province, told The Guardian, “We are just saying that for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety, public services should be given and received with an open face.”
“We are in a free and democratic society. You speak to me, I should see your face, and you should see mine. It’s as simple as that,” he added.
As per reports, the law was initially meant to ban face coverings for those offering or receiving services from government departments and provincially funded institutions, such as universities. However, in August, the legislation was amended to apply to municipalities, school boards, public health services and transit authorities, raising the possibility that women wearing a niqab or burqa in Quebec would not be able to take the metro or ride on the city bus. “As long as the service is being rendered, the face should be uncovered,” said Vallée.
The legislation does no provides for an exemption for all those who provide spiritual care or religious instruction, as well as those who are forced to cover their faces due to nature of their working conditions or occupational hazards.
Noting that there is widespread confusion as to how the new law would be applied and who it would affect, Vallée says the province would now work with municipalities, schools and public daycares to establish clear guidelines.
While accusing the provincial government of targeting Muslim women in order to curry votes ahead of next year’s provincial election, critics have cited a 2016 survey that suggested that just 3 per cent Muslim women in Canada wear the niqab.
“It seems like a made-up solution to an invented problem,” said Ihsaan Gardee of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. “We don’t have a big issue right now with hordes of Muslim women in niqab trying to work in the public service or accessing public services with difficulty.”
Causing further confusion amongst those affect Quebec politicians say the legislation does not mention when the ban on receiving services while wearing a face covering would come into effect immediately, as the implementation of the law is likely to be hindered by the many questions that remain.
“We don’t know how this is going to be applied and how it will be enforced,” said Gardee. “It’s deeply troubling.”