Ottawa 'carefully' reviewing constitutional challenge of Quebec's face-covering law

The federal government says it's reviewing the constitutional challenge of Quebec's controversial face-covering ban.

Coalition of Muslim and civil liberty groups file complaint in Quebec Superior Court on Tuesday

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould says Ottawa is "aware that an application has been filed in Quebec and we are reviewing it carefully." (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The federal government says it's reviewing the recently launched constitutional challenge to Quebec's controversial face-covering ban.

A coalition of Muslim and civil liberty groups filed the complaint in Quebec Superior Court on Tuesday.

The challenge contests portions of Quebec's religious neutrality law under both Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The law requires those giving or receiving public services to do so with their faces uncovered. 

"We have been following the progress of Bill 62 and appreciate the importance of the issues it raises. As the prime minister has said, we do not believe that the government should be telling people what they can and cannot wear," said Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in statement.

"We are aware that an application has been filed in Quebec and we are reviewing it carefully. As Attorney General of Canada, I am committed to upholding the rights of all Canadians under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée said the law only applies when it's required for communication, identification or security reasons. She said the law is not meant to be repressive.

On Tuesday, she told reporters she was confident the law would survive a court challenge.

Marie-Michelle Lacoste, a Quebec woman who converted to Islam, is a plaintiff in the legal challenge. She now uses the name Warda Naili. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said "it's not up to the federal government to challenge" Bill 62.

Trudeau told reporters last month that as a federal government "We're going to take our responsibilities seriously and look carefully at what the implications [of the bill] are."

While the federal government can't directly challenge a provincial bill, it could seek to act as an intervenor and file arguments in the subsequent proceedings. In 2013, for instance, the federal government intervened in a case involving Quebec's Bill 99, which deals with secession.

Alternatively, the federal government could refer the legislation directly to the Supreme Court, asking the high court to review its constitutionality instead of waiting for any legal challenge to reach that level. The federal government could make arguments in those proceedings.

With files from the CBC's Aaron Wherry