Quebec to vote on bill that would bar face-coverings for those receiving public services

By Allan Woods
Toronto Star | October 16, 2017

MONTREAL — After a decade-long debate about the place of religion in a secular society, Quebec is set to pass a law that would bar public servants from wearing face coverings and oblige ordinary citizens to unveil when seeking access to government services.

The proposed law has been vigorously opposed by Muslim advocacy groups in the province who say that it will unfairly target women who wear Islamic face coverings such as the niqab, which leaves only the eyes uncovered.

“A woman with five children who wears the niqab and wants to go to the library won’t be able to take the bus, won’t be able to have access to a place of learning to go with her family, and it will take an official request for her to have a reasonable accommodation,” said Eve Torres, the Quebec representative of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. “It makes no sense.”

Debate on the final draft of the bill starts Tuesday and a vote is likely sometime this week.

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Critics say that they have yet to hear of a public-service employee at any level who will be affected by the new rules. But Torres pointed to an 2016 Environics survey of 600 people which found that three per cent of Muslim women wear the niqab in public. These are the people likely to suffer the effects of the legislation, she said.

“This position is reinforcing the stigma faced by a minority. Instead of adopting inclusive policies we are excluding people from the public sphere,” Torres said. “In the end it looks like Quebec does not protect its minorities.”

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