Quebec's 'religious neutrality' bill met with concern, confusion
Muslims say they're being targeted, while municipalities grapple with questions about enforcement
A bill to promote "religious neutrality" in Quebec is getting a chilly reception from some people in the National Capital Region.
Bill 62 would ban provincial workers such as doctors, nurses, teachers and daycare workers from wearing a niqab, burka or any other face covering while delivering services. People would also be required to uncover their faces while receiving those services.
Initially, the bill was only to apply to provincial public-sector services and provincially funded institutions, but in August, Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée — also the MNA for Gatineau — proposed amendments. Those amendments would see the legislation apply to municipalities.
That's not sitting well with Gatineau mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, who's now running for re-election.
"We have hundreds of questions on how that can be implemented," said Pedneaud-Jobin on Tuesday. "It's a solution to a problem that doesn't exist except in principle."
Pedneaud-Jobin said cities across the province refused to participate in the process leading up to the bill, and that in Gatineau "our priority is to work with real people on the ground to make sure that we live together better."
Montreal mayor Denis Coderre has also spoken out against Bill 62, accusing the province of overstepping its jurisdiction.
Municipalities confused about enforcement
The bill was debated on Tuesday in the National Assembly and could pass as soon as Wednesday.
Earlier this week on CBC Montreal's Daybreak, Vallée said that if the bill passes, people riding the bus would be required to remove their face coverings for the duration of the ride.
She has also said that women who wear the niqab could make a request for religious accommodation, prompting the Canadian Council of Muslim Women to question how such requests would be managed.
Pedneaud-Jobin did not have a clear answer about the immediate ramifications for niqab-wearing women in Gatineau should the bill pass.
"We'll have to see the law first, to what extent they want to go, how they plan on enforcing that, where it starts, where it finishes," he said.
The legislation does not spell out what service providers should do if someone with a covered face asks to be served. Guidelines on how to enforce the bill are expected to take months.
Some mayoral candidates more welcoming
CBC also contacted Gatineau's other mayoral candidates for their views on Bill 62.
"As mayor of Gatineau I would abide by the law," said Clément Bélanger. "From what I hear around town, I don't think this bill is a concern."
Candidate Rémi Bergeron called it "a big challenge" to apply the law in multicultural Gatineau, but said he supports the province's plan.
A spokesperson for candidate Denis Tassé said he was unavailable to comment on Tuesday.
An assistant to candidate Sylvie Goneau received CBC's request for an interview but did not follow up to schedule a conversation.
Muslims concerned about law's impact
Vallée has said the law would apply to any type of face covering, including non-religious ones worn by protesters, but Muslims say they feel targeted regardless.
The whole debate feels like a "recycling of the conversation" that began with a similar bill in 2010, followed by the debate over the charter of values proposed by the Parti Québécois, according to Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Values.
"It's really about identity politics. We do have an election coming up in 2018, and we have a Liberal government that wants to stay in power," Gardee said. "We have politicians basically using the Muslim community as a political football, and in this case, it's a minority within the Muslim community."
Gardee said he's concerned about the vilification of that niqab-wearing minority at a time when anti-Muslim hate crimes are on the rise.
At the Gatineau Mosque on Tuesday, Naila Kibria, who'd stopped in to pray, agreed that niqab-wearing women would be most severely affected by the law.
"They should have the right to be able to walk around and to be served in the way they need to be served without their belief system or their way of life getting in the way," she said.