Judge grants stay of part of Quebec's controversial religious neutrality law

A Quebec Superior Court judge has granted a temporary suspension of the section of Quebec's religious neutrality law that deals with face coverings.

Ban cannot come back into force without government guidelines

Protesters opposing Quebec's religious neutrality law, known as Bill 62, demonstrated in Montreal on Nov. 12. A Quebec Superior Court judge has suspended the part of the law that deals with face coverings. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

A Quebec Superior Court judge has granted a temporary suspension of the section of Quebec's religious neutrality law that deals with face coverings.

Justice Babak Barin granted a stay to Section 10 of the law, which requires anyone who gives or receives public services to do so with their face uncovered.

In his decision, Barin went on to say that Section 10 cannot come back into force until the government adopts guidelines dictating how the restrictions on face coverings would work in practice.

The government has said it will not have those guidelines ready until next summer.

The controversial law was passed earlier this fall.

The court challenge was filed by a coalition of Muslim and civil rights advocates, and Warda Naili, a Quebec woman who converted to Islam and wears a niqab.

Warda Naili, a Quebec woman who converted to Islam and wears a niqab, is one of the plaintiffs in the court challenge against the province's religious neutrality law. (CBC)

They argued the law violates religious freedoms under the Canadian and Quebec charters of rights, targeting Muslim women who choose to wear a niqab or burka.

Naili told CBC News she was relieved by the stay. She said she had been avoiding any situation that could result in her being asked to remove her veil, including going to doctor's appointments. 

She said the judge's decision meant, to her, that the judge had recognized her as a human being. 

"That's what I felt. I felt like maybe for just a short time — I don't know how much time it will take, but at this moment — my dignity is preserved," she said.

She added she couldn't see how the extra guidelines could help. She said there simply "should not [be] a law like this in this society."

'Clear case of rights violation': lawyer

The lawyer representing the plaintiffs, Catherine McKenzie, says she and her partners argued the law is a "clear case of rights violation."

"We argued that there was irreparable harm for the plaintiff, for the women affected by the law," McKenzie told CBC News Friday evening. 

For example, if the women don't have access to medical services, school or public transportation, those are parts of their lives that cannot be compensated for, McKenzie explained. 

She said the lawyers also argued the law was "not even complete at this point" therefore individual interests supersede the state's interests for the time being. 

"The judge agreed with us on all counts," she said. 

Nothing unforeseen in judgment, says premier

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard reacted to the stay Friday, saying there was nothing surprising in the judgment.

"I'm not unsatisfied with the judgment because there's no mention of a violation of the charters [of rights] or any major constitutional problem," Couillard told reporters during a stop in Saint-Félicien in the Saguenay region north of Quebec City.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says the Ministry of Justice will review the judgement before deciding whether to appeal. (Radio-Canada)

"Nothing that wasn't expected."

He said it would be reviewed by the justice ministry before the government decides to appeal or not.

Government lawyers had argued they were confident the law could withstand a constitutional challenge, as it mainly requires people to show their faces for identification purposes.

The law has faced widespread criticism, stating it is unclear and unfairly targets Muslim women and fuels xenophobic attitudes. 

With files from Sarah Leavitt