National Post

Minister defends face-covering law as ‘not repressive’

‘Nobody will be chased out of a public library’

- Philip Authier Postmedia News, with a file from The Canadian Press

QU E BE C • Women will be allowed to ride the bus, sit in a hospital waiting room or walk around a library without removing a face covering if there is no interactio­n with a public employee, Quebec’s justice minister said Tuesday.

But a bus driver may ask a person to remove a face covering to verify the validity of a person’s travel document if the card has a photo, such as for students or seniors.

And students in the classroom still must have their faces uncovered to “facilitate learning,” the minister said.

Stéphanie Vallée apologized f or any confusion caused by her initial comments last week when Bill 62, the legislatio­n banning face coverings when delivering or receiving a public service, passed in the provincial legislatur­e.

“If that was the case, honestly I am just sorry that it wasn’t as clear, and maybe what I ’m doing t oday I should have done the day after we adopted the bill,” Vallée told reporters at a news conference in Quebec City. “It’s a delicate issue.” The legislatio­n has been widely derided, with critics saying it targets Muslim women. The premiers of Alberta and Ontario have denounced the bill and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said government­s shouldn’t be telling women what they can and can’t wear.

Vallée, however, said she is surprised by the opposition and said it has been in the works for years. The Liberals are fulfilling an election promise to deal with the identity issue, she said.

Taking a small step back from the harder line in her original plan, which was to oblige a person to remove a face covering for the whole transit trip or use any public service, Vallée tried on Tuesday to clarify key clauses of the law.

She said it was not intended to govern public spaces such as parks and streets, and it is in no way a law about religious symbols.

“The law adopted is not repressive,” Vallée said at the morning news conference. “It does not include sanctions. We don’t learn to live together with repressive measures.

“Nobody will be refused use of public transit. Nobody will be refused emergency health care. Nobody will be chased out of a public library in Quebec.”

But under questionin­g, she conceded a bus driver may wind up with the task of asking someone to remove their face covering if the person has a card with a photo.

She insisted drivers already have to keep order on a bus and the right to ask a passenger to identify themselves.

“It is not an extra burden,” Vallée said. “We don’t kick the person off. She does not have access (from the start).”

Then she added: “If you don’t get on, you don’t get kicked off.”

Vallée’s decision to make public guidelines — which are normally reserved for the agencies affected — comes as the uproar over the law continues.

During the weekend, protesters stormed public transit stations, crossing through the turnstiles wearing face masks of all sorts.

Many municipal leaders, including Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, have described the law as unenforcea­ble. He said he doesn’t want city bus drivers turned into clothing police.

The president of the Quebec union of municipali­ties, Bernard Sévigny, said the law puts municipal workers in an “untenable position.”

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