Answers to some key questions on Quebec's face-covering law

Quebec’s Bill 62, requiring people to show their faces when they give or receive public services, became law this week. Many wonder how it will work. Here are some answers.

New law bans those wearing face-coverings from giving or receiving public services. But how will it work?

Quebec's new law against face-coverings, passed on Oct. 17, is prompting a lot of questions. It would ban people like Zayneb Binruchd from receiving public services while wearing face-coverings such as her niqab. (Sylvain Charest/CBC)

Quebec's Bill 62, requiring people to show their faces when they give or receive public services, became law this week.

The new law applies to a wide array of public institutions — from hospitals to libraries — and has elicited a groundswell of criticism.

There are also a lot of questions about how the law will work.

Here are some answers:

Can municipalities or transit agencies get an exemption?

The decision to include municipalities and transit agencies in Bill 62 was a deliberate one on the part of the Liberal government. Those bodies were added to the proposed legislation last August.

However, several municipalities, including Montreal and Quebec City, are adamantly opposed to being included in the law.

The Union of Quebec Municipalities (UMQ) said in a news release Friday it thinks municipalities should be exempted.

The government has made no move to do so.

Could some organizations simply not enforce the law?

The law states the highest authority in every organization is responsible for making sure that it is enforced.

However, the law doesn't set out any consequences for organizations or employees who do not follow it.

This is expected to change. The province plans to include penalties for failure to comply when it adopts regulations as to how the law will be applied by July.

Several transit agencies, including those in Montreal and Gatineau, have said they will not enforce the ban until the guidelines for how the law is to be implemented are ready.

People opposed to Bill 62, the new law that would prevent anyone with a covered face to give or receive public services, waited at bus stops along Parc Avenue on Friday, Oct. 20, to protest. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

What will happen to people who wear a balaclava or a winter scarf when they get on the bus?

Quebecers may have to get through a winter before the guidelines on how to deal with situations such as this are ready. The government has given itself until next July to adopt those guidelines.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée has refused to speak about specific scenarios.

However, the law as it is worded appears to allow transit users to cover their face while waiting at a bus stop, but require them to remove their face covering after they board.

What happens when a woman wearing a niqab goes to the hospital?

A woman who wears a niqab, burka or other face covering will be expected to reveal her face when she undergoes a medical examination.

Requests made by men or women to be treated by a doctor of their own gender are already being systematically refused, Health Minister Gaétan Barrette explained earlier this week.

However, Barrette said the situation is "fuzzy" when it comes to how hospital staff at the reception desk should handle patients with a covered face when they walk into an establishment.

"We are all waiting for those directions," the health minister said.

What happens if a person refuses to take off their face covering?

That's not yet clear.

Instructions on how an employee is supposed  to react will depend on the circumstances, says the justice minister's spokesperson, Isabelle Marier St-Onge.

The provincial guidelines coming out by next July are supposed to outline how public service workers should deal with various specific situations.

Will doctors be allowed to wear surgical masks? Will police officers in riot gear be allowed to wear face shields?

Quebec's workplace safety standards will still apply, despite the religious neutrality legislation, the justice minister's spokesperson said.

Workers will still be required to wear the necessary equipment to protect themselves and others, said Marier St-Onge.