Quebec renews burqa ban debate in parliament

Ashifa Kassam | The Guardian

A bitter debate over identity, religion and tolerance has resumed in the Canadian province of Quebec, as parliamentary hearings begin on proposed legislation that would ban anyone wearing a face covering from receiving public services in the province.

The bill, tabled by the provincial Liberals last year, aims to address the issue of state neutrality and provide a framework for religious accommodation requests.

But much of the public discussion of the bill has focused on its attempt to ban face coverings. The provincial government has said there are no public employees in the province who cover their faces, meaning the legislation is likely directed at Muslim women who wear the niqab or burqa.

Some groups have voiced concerns that the legislation will simply serve to stigmatise a small group of women in the province. “It is very targeted,” said Mihad Fahmy, a lawyer with the National Council of Canadian Muslims. “Given the body of case law that already exists across the country and even the different human rights codes, one has to wonder why Quebec felt a need to address specifically in a piece of legislation the issue of face coverings.”

As the province pushes forward the proposed legislation, the group is bracing itself for ripple effects. “Clearly there’s going to be an impact nationwide,” said Fahmy. “It affects people’s understanding of what’s reasonable and how far we’re willing to go as a pluralistic society in accommodating needs.”

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