Quebec tables new religious neutrality bill banning face coverings

Quebec is again taking steps aimed at barring public servants from wearing face-covering religious garments at work, and preventing members of the public from covering their faces while receiving government services.

Bill 62 would ban face-covering religious garments for public servants, citizens using government services

Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée announced the details of two new bills - one regarding face coverings, the other aimed at fighting hate speech - at a news conference Wednesday. (CBC)

Quebec is again taking steps aimed at barring public servants from wearing face-covering religious garments at work, and preventing members of the public from covering their faces while receiving government services.

However, Bill 62 – the neutrality bill tabled Wednesday in the National Assembly – doesn't go as far as the previous Parti Québécois government's efforts to ban all religious symbols.The province would accommodate those symbols under certain conditions.

"We don't judge people for their beliefs or absence of beliefs," said Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée. 

"We are convinced the way we are approaching this is respectful and will be a plus for society."

According to the bill, titled the "Act to foster adherence to state religious neutrality and, in particular, to provide a framework for religious accommodation requests in certain bodies," officials could refuse an accommodation request for security or identification reasons.

Feds to follow Quebec's lead

Canada's Multiculturalism Minister, Tim Uppal, weighed in on Bill 62.

"We broadly support Quebec's legislation regarding the uncovering of faces for giving and receiving public services," Uppal told reporters after the Conservative caucus met on Parliament Hill. 

Uppal said the Conservatives will table a last-minute bill -- just before the session ends for the summer -- that is similar to Quebec's but would be more limited in scope.

"Our government will be moving forward in the coming days with legislation with respect to the face coverings at citizenship ceremonies, and we will consider what other measures may be necessary," the minister said.

Two bills tabled at National Assembly

The neutrality bill was one of two, tabled Wednesday in Quebec City by the provincial justice minister, on the most controversial issues facing the Liberal government.

Vallée also tabled Bill 59, aimed at fighting hate speech.

She said Bill 59 would establish a new process to report any cases of hate speech or speech inciting violence to the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

The proposed legislation would also give that tribunal new responsibilities and new investigative powers concerning hate speech, she said.

The legislation also permits the creation of an online list containing names of anyone convicted of promoting hate.

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