For supporters, Quebec's face-covering law a matter of safety and respect
'I think we should be able to see the face of the person we're talking to,' one resident says
While Quebec's new law prohibiting face coverings has faced criticism, there is also strong support for it within the province.
In one resident's view, the legislation, which effectively forces Muslim women to remove the burqa or niqab while receiving public services, comes down to a matter of safety and respect.
"I think it is a question of security," said Pierrette Delande, who lives in Saint-Hyacinthe, a small city west of Montreal.
"I think we should be able to see the face of the person we're talking to."
Under the new law, civil servants as well as those receiving a service are banned from covering their faces.
This also applies to municipal services, including taking public transit — a recent amendment that has led to confusion and protests in Montreal.
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A poll conducted last month, before Bill 62 passed at the National Assembly, suggested an overwhelming majority of Quebecers were behind it.
Eighty-seven per cent of Quebec respondents surveyed by the Angus Reid Institute in September said they support the bill, while six out of 10 Quebecers "strongly support" it.
The online survey, which polled 609 Quebecers, found that while the law didn't sit as well with anglophones and respondents under the age of 35, it still maintained majority support across all age demographics.
A distinct identity at play
Chedly Belkhodja, a professor and principal at the School of Community and Public Affairs at Concordia University in Montreal, said the law enjoys widespread backing because it plays to the province's deep-seated identity issues.
"I think Quebec has a distinct identity, Quebec has a history, a past where there was a sense that Quebec was always under the threat of a majority," he said.
"So Quebec as a minority in English Canada is trying to protect some common values, some common narratives."
While language has long been at the forefront of that identity, the separation of church and state is also a pillar of modern of Quebec society.
The challenge for successive governments have attempted to address, from the landmark Bouchard-Taylor report to the Parti Quebecois' failed Charter of Values — has been balancing secularism with the rights of minorities.
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Saint-Hyacinthe resident Danielle André says the new law helps ensure religious neutrality.
"It may sound a bit rash, but if I went to their country, if I had a big crucifix hanging from my neck, I don't think I would be welcome," said André, who called the legislation a "good thing."
"When in Rome, do as the Romans do."
With a provincial election less than a year away, questions of identity remain important to voters.
The Angus Reid poll found that one in five Quebecers said Bill 62 would be "one of the most important factors" when it comes to choosing which party to support.
While civil rights groups and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre have condemned the legislation, the two main opposition parties in Quebec City have criticized Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard for not taking it further.
Couillard's Liberals, who hold a majority in the National Assembly, all voted for the bill, while members of the Parti Québécois and the Coalition Avenir Québec voted against it.
"In a way it was a bill that was promised and it's been around for awhile and maybe it just plays out also for the Liberals to respond to a promise they made almost two years ago," said Belkhodja.
With files from Alison Northcott