The province of Quebec passed landmark legislation Wednesday that stipulates Muslim women will need to uncover their faces when dealing with Quebec government services.
The bill says people obtaining or delivering services at places such as health or auto insurance offices will need to do so with their faces in plain view. The law covers all garments ranging from the face veil to the burqa, a traditional head-to-toe veil worn by some Muslim women. It says people’s face-coverings will not be tolerated if they hinder communication or visual identification.
Premier Jean Charest told a news conference that the province was drawing a line in defense of gender equality and secular public institutions.
The Muslim Council of Montreal said there may be only around 25 Muslims in Quebec who actually wear face-coverings. Of the more than 118,000 visitors to the health board’s Montreal office in 2008-09 only 10 people – or less than 0.00009 percent of cases – involved women who wear face veils. There were no cases among the 28,000 visitors to the Quebec City service center over the same time period.
Salam Elmenyawi of the Muslim Council of Montreal questioned the need to legislate against such a small minority of the population. “It is a knee-jerk reaction to the opposition and vote-grabbing more than anything else,” he said, adding the law was unlikely to encourage integration of Muslim immigrants.
Update: See comment piece in the National Post by one Barbara Kay, who writes:
“Chapeau, le Quebec! That means, ‘Hats off to you, Quebec.’ With the announcement of Bill 94, barring the niqab in publicly funded spaces, Quebec has dared to tread where the other provinces, feet bolted to the floor in politically correct anguish, cannot bring themselves to go…. Apart from the odd imam crying ‘Islamophobia!’ and a clutch of disgruntled fundamentalist Muslim husbands, all of us – separatists, federalists, left-wingers, right-wingers, Christians, atheists, democratic Muslims, francophones, anglophones, allophones – are happy a line in the sand has been drawn on reasonable accommodation…. It doesn’t matter if there are only 20 women in Quebec wearing the niqab. Even one is too many.”