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Unveiling Bill 62

An Introduction to Quebec’s Newest Legislation to Police How Women Dress

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Bill 62 is formally titled An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality and, in particular, to provide a framework for requests for accommodations on religious grounds in certain bodies. It is a nice name for a not-so nice law and the culmination of something Quebec has been trying to do for a long time.

In 2008 the report of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission was released. The Commission intended to study issues of religious accommodation in various ways, and included public consultations. The report said, essentially, that the government should not be in the business of banning religious symbols and the view that Quebec had done too much to accommodate minorities was incorrect. Despite the Commission’s report, Quebec now has Bill 62. Clearly, the report was not taken too seriously. In 2010 the Quebec government created Bill 94, legislation similar to the current Bill 62, which banned persons from accessing public services while their face was covered. This legislation never became law due to government change over. Following Bill 94, Bill 60 was introduced in 2013. Bill 60, commonly called the ‘Quebec Charter of Values’ would have prohibited all conspicuous religious symbols, including, but not limited to all forms of Islamic veils, Sikh turbans, and large Christian crosses (though small crosses would still have been acceptable). Like the earlier attempt, this too never became law as a government change once again left it behind.

Which brings us to Bill 62. Bill 62 is a short Act with only 22 provisions. There are a number of provisions in the Act worth discussing, but it is provision 10 which has caused the real uproar – specifically in English Canada, but also within Quebec itself, where there have been numerous protests to the Bill. Section 10 says in its entirety:

10. Personnel members of a body must exercise their functions with their face uncovered.

Similarly, persons who request a service from a personnel member of a body referred to in this chapter must have their face uncovered when the service is provided.

This choice to require an uncovered face while a service is provided has led to discussions about where the line is drawn. Basically, if you are interacting with another person who provides a public service, your face must be uncovered. This law essentially leaves Muslim women who feel that wearing a niqab or a burqa is a requirement of their religion with a “choice” between following their faith (and losing access to public services such as education and health care) or following the law in conflict with their faith.

Unsurprisingly, a challenge to the law has already been made, a joint effort between the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association with two affiants. The affiants, Fatima Ahmad (an education student at McGill University) and Marie Michelle Lacoste (a French-Canadian who converted to Islam) both wear the niqab despite protests from family members. Arguments centre around the right to freedom of religion and equality rights under both the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This new Bill is not the first of its kind, but it is the first that has made it to the point of becoming law in Quebec. In section 1 of the Act, Quebec states that the purposes include affirming the religious neutrality of the state and ensuring quality communication and verification of identity. Apparently, quality communication and identity verification is only capable of occurring with the face uncovered. It has long been standard practice in Canadian law that women who veil would remove them for identification purposes when required (often with another woman present for verification rather than a man) and both affiants in the challenge attest to never having trouble communicating through their niqabs.

It seems unlikely that Bill 62 will withstand the challenge raised, but it seems just as likely that the government of Quebec will allow it to drag out as long as possible. Even if (or when) it is declared unconstitutional it seems unlikely that the Canadian public will have heard the end of the government of Quebec making attempts to police women’s clothing.

 

Kali Larsen (3L) is News Editor of Juris Diction.

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