Quebec’s legislative assembly approved on Wednesday a law that bans facial coverings, including the niqab or burqa, for government workers and anyone receiving public services in the Canadian province.
Bill 62, which lawmakers have discussed for at least two years, passed by a 66-51 margin.
The bill does not specifically mention the niqab or burqa, but would affect those Muslim women who choose to wear the traditional garments.
Originally, the law would have banned face coverings for anyone in the exchange of services with government departments or institutions receiving financial backing from the province. But in August, lawmakers broadened the bill to also affect those interactions involving school boards, public health departments, transit authorities and towns and cities.
People offering spiritual care or religious instruction and people covering their faces for working conditions or occupational hazards can receive exemptions.
“We are just saying that for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety, public services should be given and received with an open face,” Premier Philippe Couillard said. “We are in a free and democratic society. You speak to me, I should see your face, and you should see mine. It’s as simple as that.”
Two main opposition parties, the Parti Québécois and Coalition Avenir Quebec, said the legislation doesn’t go far enough. Civil rights advocates said the law discriminates against religious minorities.
On Tuesday, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said the provincial government is overstepping its jurisdiction, adding that there are “serious problems” with how the law would be applied.
The Liberal government said the law addresses public safety concerns, specifically addressing masked protesters.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims, in a statement, said was “deeply concerned” by the new law. It “boils down to ugly identity politics” before the 2018 provincial election, the councl’s executive director Ihsaan Gardee said.
“I go to mall with my friends, I go out, I go to the library, so it will just make me stay home,” Zayneb Binruchd, a 21-year-old Montrealer who wears a niqab told CBC News.
“I don’t have a car, I don’t have anybody to drive me around, so it will just block me from the rest of the world.”
By Allen Cone