Québec passes controversial religious neutrality bill into law

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Wednesday morning the National Assembly of Québec passed the liberal government’s Bill 62 into law with a vote of 66-51 in favour. The new law requires citizens both giving and receiving public services to do so with their faces uncovered. This includes city employees, public transit employees, citizens taking public transit or receiving service at a public library, for example (note: for the entire bus trip or the entire library visit). Quebec is the first jurisdiction in North America to enact such a law, but in France, face-coverings are outlawed in all public places.

The law provides for a certain religious accommodation process to which the individual must apply. Québec’s Minister of Justice, Stépanie Vallée, has maintained that the bill does not target any religious group and is concerned instead with security and commitment to the province’s “religious neutrality”. Critics, including the NDP, and human- and civil-rights defence groups, have warned that, in effect, the law discriminates against Muslim women and infringes on religious freedom, freedom of expression, and equality.

Last year, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association submitted a brief to the National Assembly opposing Bill 62:

“We have argued that the bill unfairly targets individuals who wear religious face coverings and thereby infringes freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and the right to be free from discrimination. We have also pointed out inconsistencies in the proposed law – such as its special protection for “the emblematic and toponymic elements of Québec’s cultural heritage, in particular its religious cultural heritage, that testify to its history” – which exacerbate the bill’s purpose or effect of unfairly targeting individuals from minority religious, ethnic, and racial groups and, in particular, women from these groups.”

The bill will come into force upon receiving assent form the lieutenant-governor in the coming days.

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.