Quebec's Bill 62 - Gone Too Far or Not Far Enough?
Quebec's Liberal government went ahead and approved Bill 62, a move which brought immediate criticism from human rights groups and a wave of disapproval on social media. Bill 62, concerning religious neutrality, clearly targets one main group - Muslim women who cover their faces.
On Wednesday October 18th, members of the National Assembly voted 66-51 in favor of the law that prohibits anyone giving or receiving public services in the province to have their faces covered - 'anyone' meaning Muslim women who choose to wear a niqab or burka for their religious beliefs. However, the legislation also forbids these women from wearing them on public buses and in other areas. Bill 62 is sure to appease those who have become antimuslim in all its shapes and forms - but there are many who see this part of the bill as purely discriminatory and even contravening Canada's Charter of Rights as well as the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
This comes from a government, who in the last provincial election condemned the Parti Quebecois for their planned 'Charter of Values', which would have prohibited public workers from wearing any religious symbols at all. And it comes from a government who promised if elected, while still prohibiting the full face covering, they would only apply the law to the province's public-sector workers and provincial institutions only - something the majority of Quebecers do support.
It contradicts the original stance they took on the issue - and conveniently comes in an election year where their re-election is being seriously challenged.
Opposition parties Coalition Avenir Québec and the Parti Québécois voted against the Bill, but only because they felt it actually didn't go far enough.They want all religious symbols banned, including kippahs, hijabs and turbans - and that the law should extend to judges, prison guards and police officers. The PQ even wants 'the principle of secularism be enshrined in Quebec’s charter of human rights and freedoms'. It's their supporters the Liberals appear to be trying to 'accommodate' right now.
A big concern is coming from the union representing Montreal's bus and metro drivers - who do not want their drivers given the responsibility of enforcing the law, questioning how the government even expects them to do so. Drivers don't want to become niqab or burka police - and they shouldn't, as it could only lead to trouble, perhaps even violence.
On CBC Montreal's Daybreak, Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée said 'the law is necessary for communication reasons, identification reasons and security reasons - and that the ban on face coverings would be for the duration of the service provided, meaning a niqab or burka would need to be removed for the entire bus ride'.
In the meantime, Montreal's Muslim community is also speaking out.A 21year-old Muslim woman, Zayneb Binruchd, said in a CBC report, she 'takes the bus regularly, as much as six times a day' and that she 'would rather stay home than take off her niqab to take a bus'.
"I go to mall with my friends, I go out, I go to the library, so it will just make me stay home," she was quoted as saying. "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... (if) I have to go to the hospital, if I go to court I will take it off, I have no problem at all, but give me a reason why I have to take it off and I will take it off. But there's no logic, there's no reason."
For now, the ban on wearing niqab or burkas (while receiving services) goes into effect immediately, but it is unclear about what public service workers should do with someone who has their face covered.
Much still has to be discussed and the details need to be ironed out, but whether you agree with Bill 62 or not - is it right that the vast majority of Muslims, who are peaceful and completely oppose violence, are being singled out because of the actions of some extremist and radical, terrorist groups, who are not at all representative of their beliefs? Is it right when only trying in the best way they are presently capable of, regardless of the racism and hatred they face, to integrate into our society?
Are we as a people, in a country which prides itself in freedom of speech, tolerance and respect of others, not capable of understanding what it might be like to flee horrific situations - coming from a completely different culture into one so very unfamiliar and then being judged and ostracized before even having the opportunity to learn, to trust and adapt? Until then, we might be the losers, by not allowing ourselves to learn from what they have to offer and contribute to our own diverse culture. Reasonable or unreasonable accommodation? Is there really no other way to confront the real issues? Your suggestions are welcome.