The provincial government of Quebec, Canada is due to debate a proposed law which would require people to remove any facial coverings while working in the public sector or dealing with government workers.
“As long as the service is being rendered, the face should be uncovered,” Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée said Monday, as cited by CBC. “This is a bill about le vivre ensemble [living together in harmony], it’s a bill about guidelines and clearly establishes neutrality of the state.”
Bill 62, which ostensibly covers religious neutrality, could be voted upon as early as Tuesday reports CBC.
Doctors, nurses, teachers, postal workers, bus drivers and a multitude of other public servants would be required to uncover their faces were Bill 62 to pass. Even those receiving their services would be forced to reveal themselves.
In addition to integration concerns, Vallée cited “communication reasons… identification… and security reasons,” adding that, if it passes, the law will be the first of its kind in North America.
Similar proposals were defeated in 2010 and 2013, including the highly controversial ‘Quebec Charter of Values,’ introduced by the Parti Québécois, which proposed a ban on all “conspicuous” religious symbols including Jewish kippahs, Muslim veils and Christian crosses, according to Newsweek.
Naturally enough, the proposed bill has drawn widespread criticism, with many claiming it disproportionately targets Muslim women while others, like the Parti Québécois and Coalition Avenir Québec, say it doesn’t go far enough.
“For me, neutrality would be everyone believes what they want to,” said Shaheen Ashraf, a board member of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women in Montreal, as cited by the CBC.
“Forcing someone to uncover, or forcing someone to cover: for me that’s not neutrality,” she added.
The wording of the legislation is murky, however, with an apparent exemption afforded to “serious” requests for religious exceptions.
This, of course, raises the semantic debate over what constitutes a “serious” request, as highlighted by Lucie Lamarche of Quebec’s Ligue des droits et libertés.
“The management of the [law] is a bit hard to figure out,” said Lamarche, a law professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal, as cited by CBC.
“The thing with guidelines is that they are read and applied by many people in many different contexts in many different regions,” she said.
“As we know, there are many different opinions about the role of the state and the principle of state neutrality in Quebec. So it’s hard to believe that those guidelines by themselves won’t produce discrimination.”