Quebec’s face covering ban

The Current recently ran a segment on Quebec’s new law banning face coverings for those providing or receiving public services, including medical services and public transport.

I can’t see any way to interpret this law other than discrimination against Muslim women. That impression is actually magnified by the Quebec governments contortions in trying to defend it as constitutional, for instance by saying it will equally bar people wearing scarves and sunglasses. That – combined with a bizarre promise that people who wear face coverings for religious reasons will be allowed to apply for an exception – highlights how the law serves no comprehensible or valid purpose, while needlessly constraining individual choice.

The panel assembled on the show make some strong points: notably, how when governments pass laws that discriminate in this way they can help to legitimize and embolden bigots in the broader society. This will subject women who are already subjected to bigoted abuse to more, while undermining the perception that Quebec values everybody’s human rights.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

5 thoughts on “Quebec’s face covering ban”

  1. I agree that Quebec’s new legislation will only make life more difficult for Muslim women. Have women in a burqa caused any public disturbances or given government offices or doctors any trouble? In fact, they may be further victimized by their spouses and relatives. Only the women themselves should make the decision and as we cannot change cultural, sexist or religious norms, why pick on the women who are already limited in their options? These women may be isolated even more if they are not allowed to go out in public.

  2. Behind Quebec’s Ban on Face Coverings, a Debate Over Identity

    But Quebec, the only French-majority province in an Anglophone country, has always been different, never quite signing onto the idea of multiculturalism, which was viewed from the outset as another way for English Canada to devalue Quebec’s culture and place in the country.

    That difference has now been crystallized by the new law, which no one even knows how — or whether — to enforce.

    “French Canadians in Quebec behave like psychologically embattled people,” said Patrice Brodeur, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Montreal. “They are a majority in the province, but a minority on the continent. That means they are often blind to the ways in which they end up being the victimizer, imposing itself on minority groups.”

    The face-covering law, titled the State Religious Neutrality Law, is the current Quebec government’s effort to address an angry debate that has blistered social ties and dominated provincial politics for more than a decade. And it is not likely to settle the argument.

  3. “Support for the law within Quebec is strong — 91 percent among French speakers, according to an online Angus Reid poll conducted last month that is often cited by the provincial government.

    But denunciation of the new law from across the country has been vocal and swift. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that while Quebec makes its own laws, he believed women could make up their own minds on what to wear.

    The premiers of Ontario and Alberta both slammed the law, with the Alberta leader, Rachel Notley, saying that it “smacks of Islamophobia.”

    Human rights advocates and lawyers fear that the law will further isolate Muslim women and inflame anti-Muslim hate crimes, which have risen in recent years in Quebec and across the country. The most heinous was the murder of six Muslims in a Quebec City mosque last January.

    “The message is this community is dysfunctional and needs to be corrected,” said Salam Elmenyawi, the president of the Muslim Council of Montreal, which represents 70 mosques and Islamic organizations. “This is institutional discrimination.”

    The provincial justice minister, Stéphanie Vallée, who has said that the goal of the law is to ensure identification, communication and security, held a news conference on Tuesday to address the confusion and increasing protests the law has drawn.

    People will have to show their faces only at preliminary contact with government workers, she clarified. They then can cover themselves again.

    “No one will be thrown off public transit, be refused emergency health care or be chased out of a library,” she said, according to the local news media. “We do not have the intention of setting up an uncovered-face police.”

    The agency that runs the Montreal subway and bus system said its workers would not enforce the law until it had been analyzed further. Some people think it will never be enforced.”

  4. Wanting to ban the veil, Quebec bans sunglasses, too

    Fooling none of the Quebeckers, none of the time

    It came up with a muddle, which has flummoxed officials trying to interpret it. Quebec’s justice minister said at first that face coverings, including sunglasses, would be banned on buses, then said passengers could put them on after showing their passes. An exemption on “religious grounds”, granted through a cumbersome procedure, makes the law potentially pointless as well as confusing. The PQ and another opposition party said the legislation did not go far enough and voted against it.

    Just 50 or 60 women, out of Quebec’s 8.4m people, wear niqabs, says Farida Mohamed of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women. Most Quebeckers and Canadians favour laws that oblige them to unveil, polls show. Despite its non-sectarian disguise, the new law risks inflaming Islamophobia in a province that has more than its fair share of it. In January a student shot six Muslims at a mosque in Quebec City, the capital. The sunglasses ban is only partly a joke.

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