US & Canada

Legal challenge launched against Quebec face-covering ban

Woman wearing niqab
Image caption It is unclear how many women in Quebec wear the niqab

Two Canadian advocacy groups have filed a constitutional challenge against a controversial religious neutrality law in Quebec.

Bill 62 bars people from wearing face coverings when giving or receiving a public service.

It was passed by the provincial legislature in October.

The challenge was filed in Quebec Superior Court by the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Marie-Michelle Lacoste, a Quebec Muslim woman who wears the niqab, or a veil that covers the face except around the eyes, is also one of the plaintiffs.

They are seeking a court order to stay the implementation of the section of the law that requires people to uncover their faces.

NCCM Executive Director Ihsaan Gardee called the bill "discriminatory" and an example of "ugly identity politics".

Under Bill 62, women who wear a burqa, a full-body veil, or a niqab have to show their faces while receiving a government service.

Bureaucrats, police officers, teachers, and bus drivers as well as doctors, midwives, and dentists who work in publicly funded hospitals and health centres must uncover their face.

The government says the bill includes all types of face coverings and is not meant to target Muslims.

While the law does not specifically mention the Muslim faith, critics argue it marginalises Muslim women who cover their faces by limiting their access to government work and services.

Quebec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallée told reporters on Tuesday the government believes Bill 62 is in line with constitutional rights and is justifiable in a free and democratic society.

She said that the province would defend the law in court.

The hotly debated law was met with confusion when it was first passed on 18 October.

The province was forced to issue clarifications, including that no one would be refused basic services under the legislation and that people would only have to show their faces for the purpose of identification.

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has criticised the legislation and has not ruled out federal involvement in a legal challenge.

It is unclear how many women in Quebec wear religious face coverings, though an Environics survey from 2016 suggests about 3% of Canadian Muslim women wear the chador, a full-body cloak, and 3% wear the niqab.

Similar legislation has been proposed in Quebec twice before as part of the province's efforts to impose state secularism.

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