Quebec law singles out those who wear face coverings

Remember the debate around Quebec’s “Charter of Values” several years ago? The proposed bill aimed to prohibit government employees from wearing anything that could signal their religious beliefs. What you may not know is that a similar bill, Bill 62, was brought forward by the governing provincial Liberal party and is currently in committee. This bill would require that all those providing and receiving government services do so with their face uncovered.

The bill contains a broad definition of “government services,” including school boards, any bodies funded by public budgets, and organizations that appoint staff following the Public Service Act. This umbrella term could very well extend beyond just provincial government services, possibly impacting someone’s day-to-day life. There are even questions around whether this definition includes public buses.

Candidates for the federal New Democratic Party (NDP) leadership race were asked about their views on this bill during their French language debate in Montreal on August 26. Each of the candidates gave vague assurances that they believe in the state’s ability to protect the rights of individuals from being infringed upon. This is ridiculous behaviour from contenders for party leadership and they should be loudly condemning a bill that discriminates against any part of the population.

It is possible for politicians to ignore what is going on Quebec because it has been granted special treatment as a “nation within a nation.” While Quebec’s distinct culture and language earn it a certain level of leeway in conducting its affairs, that does not extend to the ability to discriminate against its citizens and dictate what they can and cannot wear.

Instituting this law, and frankly even debating it, are overt indicators of a deeper fear of the “other” that exists not only in Québec but throughout Canada as well. It is worth noting that a poll conducted in Québec on the NDP leadership race found 28 per cent of respondents wouldn’t vote for Jagmeet Singh for the sole reason that he wears a turban.

We need to take this opportunity as a society to look deeply and reconsider our own beliefs around freedom of religion. If freedom of religion means something more than talk in this country then we need to act on that belief and ensure that everyone has the same opportunities in our society, regardless of who they worship and how.