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Muslim Women In Quebec Are Now Effectively Banned From Wearing The Niqab And Burqa

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 Yesterday, October 18th, 2017, Quebec passed Bill 62, which immediately forces people riding the bus to show their face. Or to take off their sunglasses if they're going to the library. Or pulling down their hoodies before entering the post office. It may sound ridiculous, like some old fashioned “it’s polite” rule your grandmother yells at you in a fancy restaurant, but now it is the law of the land for our upstairs neighbors.

What the bill actually enforces is disallowing the “wearing of face coverings for people giving or receiving a service from the state," and it “offers a framework outlining how authorities should grant accommodation requests based on religious beliefs,” as explained by the Huffington Post. This means that not only will librarians, bus drivers, and the like not be allowed to wear “face covering” garments, but neither will citizens visiting the library, riding the bus, or similar “service[s] from the state.” The bill passed closely, by merely 15 votes, and made Quebec the “first jurisdiction in North America to pass legislature of this nature,” the Montreal Gazette reports.

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One of the biggest concerns over this bill is: Who exactly enforces it? Can a bus driver deny services to you this morning if your sunglasses or niqab cover your face? Ronald Boisrond, Canadian Union of Public Employees, told the Huffington Post, “Bus drivers don’t want to have the responsibility of applying Bill 62,” because, as the CBC reports, the bill “does not say what service providers should do when someone with a covered face asks to be served.” The guidelines for such a situation are expected next July, which is an exorbitantly long time to wait to find out what you can/cannot do while working for the state or receiving services from the state.

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By far the biggest critique of this bill is that it’s racially biased. No one thinks this bill is *really* about dark-tinted sunglasses or ski masks or hoods, but rather, it's a long, drawn-out, targeted attack on Muslims women who choose to wear head coverings, specifically the niqab and burqa. Andre Lumoureux, a spokesperson for the secular movement in Canada, argues, “[the niqab] is not a religious sign. It’s a political symbol of the enslavement and de-empowerment of women that is supported by the most repressive regimes on the planet” – not mincing his words, he clearly has a basic misunderstanding of the role of head coverings in Islam, as well as basic human rights. He might want to take a peek at the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protects and promotes “tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups and shall further activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.” How does banning the garb of a specific religion promote tolerance or friendship? How does equating it to slavery or the disempowerment of an entire sex promote peace? I dont know about you, but I'm not typically with people who equate fashion and religious choices with enslavement. 

Muslim women face global attacks on their autonomy and humanity on the daily. Between Belgium banning the burqa, France's long history of islamophobicbans, Trump blaming literally anything he can think of on Muslims, and the countless personal attacks Muslim women face, this Quebec bill seems akin to another cut in a sea of thousands of cuts.

Philippe Couillard, one of the most prominent supporters of the bill, told the Huffington Post that he thinks the “vast majority of Canadians, not only Quebecers, would agree upon is that public services should be given and received with an open face. I speak to you, you speak to me. I see your face. You see mine. As simple as that.” This may sound like a comically simple, and blatant, misunderstanding of the role “face coverings” play in various religions…because it is. Religions across the globe involve head or face coverings, and to play into the fear-rhetoric that anyone whose face or head is covered is menacing, rude, or dangerous is harmful in many ways, for many groups of people.

This bill unfortunately falls in line with a history of not respecting our religious sisters and brothers. There are many global religions that involve head or face coverings, like wearing a Hindu turban or Orthodox Jewish women wearing a wig. This bill, however, seems blatant in its attack on Muslim women, as the niqab and burqa are the most commong "face covering" religious garb. At the end of the day the way people present themselves to the world is private and not the state’s job to regulate. Take a moment of your day for some introspection of your own beliefs on head and face coverings, and look around your community to see how you can promote everyone's religious freedom and freedom of expression.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Steve Evans

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