Tak­ing a stance against Bill 62

The McGill Daily - - Contents - —The Mcgill Daily Ed­i­to­rial Board

On Wednesday Oc­to­ber 18, the Quebec Na­tional As­sem­bly passed Bill 62, called the “Act to fos­ter ad­her­ence to State re­li­gious neu­tral­ity.” The bill ex­plic­itly re­quires mu­nic­i­pal and provin­cial pub­lic ser­vants and those ac­cess­ing pub­lic ser­vices to un­cover their faces, in order to elim­i­nate re­li­gious sym­bols from the pub­lic sphere. It in­cludes ser­vices such as hos­pi­tals, li­braries, uni­ver­si­ties, pub­lic schools, and pub­lic tran­sit. Ini­tially, Quebec Jus­tice Min­is­ter Stéphanie Val­lée main­tained that “as long as the [pub­lic] ser­vice is be­ing ren­dered, the face should be un­cov­ered;” she later soft­ened her stance by clar­i­fy­ing that peo­ple are ex­pected to un­cover their faces only un­der spe­cific cir­cum­stances—for ex­am­ple, when en­ter­ing pub­lic tran­sit. The ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties most opposed to Bill 62, the Parti Que­be­cois (PQ) and the Coali­tion Avenir Quebec, ar­gued that it “didn’t go far enough.”

While Bill 62 tar­gets those who wear the niqab and burqa un­der the guise of ‘re­li­gious neu­tral­ity,’ Quebec’s claim to be sec­u­lar and re­li­giously neu­tral is con­testable. Re­li­gious neu­tral­ity stops short of re­mov­ing Catholic sym­bols, like the cross in Quebec’s As­sem­bly Hall, con­sid­ered to be part of Quebec’s “cul­tural le­gacy.” Yet other re­li­gions are ex­cluded from the “cul­tural le­gacy” claim. Bill 62 sup­port­ers are thus mak­ing a dis­crim­i­na­tory dis­tinc­tion be­tween which re­li­gious prac­tices are ac­cepted and which are not.

Val­lée has at­tempted to de­flect crit­i­cism of the bill by main­tain­ing that it does not tar­get re­li­gious mi­nori­ties and in fact pro­hibits all face cov­er­ings, such as sun­glasses. Yet this bill for “re­li­gious neu­tral­ity” only ad­dresses face cover­ing, and in Quebec the ma­jor­ity of women who cover their faces for re­li­gious pur­poses are Mus­lim. In ad­di­tion, sup­port­ers of the law have iter­ated the need for the bill as a mat­ter of “safety and re­spect.” Couch­ing the bill in the rhetoric of “safety” in­di­cates that it re­sponds to a per­ceived dan­ger; given the law’s clear dis­crim­i­na­tion against Mus­lim women, we can un­der­stand it to be re­spond­ing to a con­structed fear of Mus­lim peo­ple. While the bill doesn’t ex­plic­itly tar­get those who wear the burqa and niqab, its am­bi­gu­ity leaves room for law en­force­ment to ap­ply it as they see fit.

The bill sanc­tions state vi­o­lence against Mus­lim women and em­bold­ens reg­u­lar ci­ti­zens to com­mit acts of racial vi­o­lence. Hate crimes against Mus­lims are al­ready on the rise, up by more than 250 per cent in the past four years. This ra­tio­nal­iza­tion of state con­trol over re­li­gious ex­pres­sion, specif­i­cally that of Mus­lims, also re­lates to the pa­tron­iz­ing be­lief that such a bill “lib­er­ates” Mus­lim women. How­ever, the bill that sup­pos­edly re­sponds to the co­er­cion of Mus­lim women to wear face cov­er­ings is in it­self co­er­cive by de­mand­ing that they take these face cov­er­ings off.

Bill 62 is a di­rect threat to the safety of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity, and should be treated as such. We must not wait for it to be chal­lenged in court, as the Parti Que­be­cois is calling for all such chal­lenges to be au­to­mat­i­cally blocked. In­stead, those who can should take ac­tion im­me­di­ately by writ­ing to their po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Fur­ther­more, we must speak up if we wit­ness the ha­rass­ment of women wear­ing a niqab or a burqa at the hands of law en­force­ment or civil­ians. There are Face­book groups such as “Faire le tra­jet en­sem­ble MTL I’ll ride with you” for those will­ing to ride pub­lic trans­port with women who feel un­safe rid­ing alone. We can­not speak on be­half of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity, and so we all hold re­spon­si­bil­ity to re­search and en­gage in strong op­po­si­tion to this dis­crim­i­na­tory bill.

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