No niqabs on public buses? Confusion reigns after surprise amendments to Quebec bill

Muslim Montrealer Warda Naili is concerned about amendments to Bill 62, saying the provincial government is “tossing this bone” to Quebecers who are obsessed with identity politics.

Province short on answers as Muslims, Montreal mayor unclear over sweeping changes to Bill 62

Warda Naili said she doesn't mind uncovering her face for identification purposes but feels targeted by Bill 62. (CBC)

A new proposal by the Quebec government to dictate what people wear when they give or receive public services is causing anger and confusion. 

On Tuesday, Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée proposed amendments to Bill 62 that would see the legislation apply to municipalities, metropolitan communities, the National Assembly and public transit organizations.

Initially the bill, which would force people offering or receiving a public service to do so with their face uncovered, was only to apply to provincial public sector services. It included some exemptions for people who wear face coverings for religious reasons. 

But since Bill 62 was first tabled in 2015, there has been a lot of confusion over whether Muslim women would be able to access public services, such as riding a bus, while wearing a niqab, said Warda Naili, a Quebec Muslim woman who wears a niqab.

Naili said the decision to expand the bill's reach made it appear the Liberals were "tossing a bone" to anti-immigrant sentiment in the province. 

Now, given the bill would apply to public transit authorities, she's worried a bus driver might ask her to remove her veil if the new amendments to the bill are passed.

"It's in public," she said, referring to the prospect of taking her niqab off in a bus. "It's in front of everyone. It's shaming to have to do it in front of everyone."

Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée first announced the details of the bill in 2015. (CBC)

Coderre rebuffs amendments 

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre also raised concerns about the latest version of the bill, accusing the provincial government of overstepping its jurisdiction and ignoring the city's multicultural character.

It was also unclear to him if religious face coverings would be banned on city buses.   

"When someone with a niqab arrives with their children, are we going to tell them, 'You aren't entering into the bus or we're not giving you services?" Coderre asked during an executive committee meeting Wednesday morning.

Montreal's transit authority, the STM, is not commenting on how its service may be affected, noting that Bill 62 has yet to become law. But a spokesperson did say the STM was not consulted about the proposed amendments.

Vallée was asked repeatedly at a news conference whether the bill would apply to people riding public transit.

She said she didn't want to comment on specific examples of how the bill would be applied, but added that it wouldn't be used to deny people access to services.

"We cannot say that no accommodation is possible," Vallée said.

With files from CBC's Sudha Krishnan and The Canadian Press