Controversial Quebec Face Veil Ban Contested by Academics & PM

Last Wednesday saw the liberal Quebec government trigger its majority to vote in favour of a law banning the face-veil in the public domain. This religious neutrality law requires all those who wear the niqab to remove it when giving or receiving public services, such as the taking the bus, providing or receiving services at hospital or within educational institutes.

As the past couple of years have seen a wave of discussions, political mandates and actual regulation implemented in nations across the global north, it comes as no real surprise that French influenced Quebec is the next municipality to adopt such ruling.

Warda Naili poses for a photograph on a city bus in Montreal, Saturday, October 21, 2017. Graham Hughes / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Solange Lefebvre, a professor at Universite de Montreal who researches culture and religion in society, said Quebec is influenced by French intellectual circles when it comes to secularism and religious neutrality.

Although there has been heated debates regarding the covering of individuals faces, the current climate of securitization implies an increasing shift toward policies, much like Quebec’s Bill 62, that exhibit government imposition on dress codes.

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s federal Prime Minister, has himself declared an investigation into bill 62, stating that “I don’t think it’s the government’s business to tell a woman what she should, or shouldn’t, be wearing”.

Although Quebec’s Bill 62 is in full force, its implementation is contested. With many public sector workers taking a critical stance and refusing to implement this new law.

Quebec’s Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee explicitly stated that within the classroom veils must be removed:

“When the student is in the classroom, when they receive training, the uncovered face rule applies,” she told reporters in Quebec City. “Because when we are in a situation of learning or training, communication is important.”

Yet many public sector officials, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, have contested such implementation. McGill University spokesman Justin Dupuis said Tuesday the school “has the obligation to accommodate religious differences, and it will continue to do so.”

Fatima Ahmad, a 21-year-old student in McGill’s education department, wears the niqab and said she’s never had a problem with her colleagues or professors.

“For exams I remove it so they can identify me — it’s not a problem,” she said in an interview after Vallee’s most recent comments.

“A lot of professors at McGill are opposed to the law,” Ahmad said. “And I’ve been wearing it since it was banned and I still wear it. And my professors are fine with it.”

Vallee’s remarks prompted Jean-Marie Lafortune, president of a large teachers’ federation, to say that if university professors are forced to play fashion police and expel veiled Muslim women from classrooms it would be a violation of their academic freedom.

Vallee reiterated Bill 62 will apply everywhere in the province. Some municipal politicians, including Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, are staunchly opposed to the law.

The minister has said the legislation doesn’t target any religious group and says most Quebecers agree with the principle behind the bill.

Yet federal and provincial politicians have expressed concern, highlighting that Muslim women will be targeted disproportionately and, in turn, suffer real marginalisation and possible alienation.

The implementation, and future, of this bill is currently being investigated by individuals and organisations across the social and political spectrum’s. The contestation of religious freedoms and religious neutrality implies an uncertain future for the Muslim women of Quebec.

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