New guidelines not enough to fix Quebec’s face-covering ban, lawyer says

By Jonathan Montpetit
CBC News | May 12, 2018

Quebec’s new guidelines on religious accommodation have failed to ease concerns about whether Muslim women will be able to access public services — such as riding a bus — if they wear a niqab or burka.

The guidelines were released earlier this week, and are meant to become part of a law that requires Quebecers to leave their faces uncovered in order to give or receive public services.

They state that exemptions to the law can only be granted on religious grounds if the demand is serious, doesn’t violate the rights of others and doesn’t impose “undue hardships.”

But they also leave it up to individual public bodies to decide how to handle requests, and require each body to appoint an official to make these decisions.

That could require a woman wearing a niqab to make numerous requests in order to take care of simple everyday tasks, everything from getting a driver’s licence to taking public transit to borrowing a library book, said Catherine McKenzie, a lawyer at the Montreal firm IMK.

“I don’t see how this is going to work in practice,” she said. “We’re talking about something that is really burdensome on the people it affects.”

. . .

The National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association also denounced the new guidelines, saying in a joint statement they would do nothing to “fix a law that is, at its core, discriminatory and unconstitutional.”

“Requiring Muslim women who wear the niqab to make an application for exemption every time they wish to access basic public services such as health care and transit places a further undue burden on them,” said Khalid Elgazzar, the vice-chair of the council.

“In our view, these guidelines only reinforce the convoluted and flawed nature of Bill 62.”

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