Within an existing sensitive religious-political climate, Quebec just made a move that could have negative consequences for its female Muslim population.
Quebec is one of Canada’s 13 provinces and is the second most populous province in the country behind Ontario. French is the sole official language of the province and a predominantly French identity is important to many inhabitants of Quebec. This is important to remember.
The law Quebec officials passed on October 18 bars those wearing face coverings from receiving or performing public services. This applies to anyone working in a government job too. So, teachers cannot cover their faces while they teach. Doctors cannot cover their faces with anything outside of medical equipment when they work.
Muslim women are teachers and doctors, and everything in between.
This law will also not allow people with face coverings to use public transportation or access public health care services. Opponents of the legislation claim it singles out Muslims and especially Muslim women. Those who support the law claim it guarantees state religious neutrality.
How can a law be neutral if it takes away a symbol from one religion but does not affect others?
Stéphanie Vallée, the minister of justice for Quebec, said this piece of legislation would foster social cohesion.
The thing about that is, there is not an extremely high concentration of Muslim women who sport niqabs or other coverings of the majority of the face. Canada as a whole has less than a third of the number of Muslims than the United States.
This makes the bill eerily aimed at one type of person: a Muslim woman. Working, commuting and basic public services are all important parts of everyone’s lives, so why should anyone not get to display their religion while they do so?
Not many are buying into religious neutrality as a reason.
There is no clear way for this law to even be enforced. Bus drivers should not be held responsible for not allowing someone onto their bus simply because of a cloth covering their face, nor do they want to. So, who will? This has yet to be answered.
Muslim women are now in fear, more so than they were before.
This law will not bring about a more even playing field. It will highlight those who do not appear to fit in with the traditionally Quebec landscape of people.
Last January, a mosque in Quebec City received an unexpected guest when a man shot and killed six people while also injuring eight. He had previously criticized Islam as well as immigration on the internet.
Nobody wants an event like this or the harassment Muslims have endured to go on.
When it comes to what people can & cannot wear – my position has always been known, and it's where I'll always be: https://t.co/Sb0CloBeLw
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) October 18, 2017
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is looking deeper into what a bill like this would do to citizens of Quebec. “I don’t think it’s the government’s business to tell a woman what she should or shouldn’t be wearing,” Trudeau said.
Justin, you just might be onto something.
Cover image via YouTube, additional via Vice News.