Public hearings started Tuesday on Quebec’s religious neutrality legislation.
If passed, Bill 62 would ban face coverings – specifically niqabs – for public servants while they’re at work.
Speaking at the first day of hearings on Tuesday afternoon were a group representing women’s rights and the Quebec English School Boards Association, (QESBA).
“When you don’t have a problem, or you’re not sick, maybe medication is not a good thing to take. So we’re saying to ourselves, do we really need this?” said Stephen Burke, Central Quebec School Board chairman and QESBA executive member.
QESBA is asking for the government to put away its religious neutrality bill. Burke said they don’t have a problem with their teachers wearing religious symbols.
“We’re worried about the divisiveness more than anything else. It creates a feeling of uneasiness and we can feel that,” he said.
The bill also aims to define the term “religious accommodations” and make it clear when and where an exception can be made.
For example, it states that niqabs will “not be permitted when reasons of security or identification are involved.”
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Bill 62 will also make sure subsidized childcare services do not teach specific religious practices.
The justice minister said this law is not an attack on a small group of Muslim women: “Not at all, not at all. It’s a bill that is inclusive. It respects individual choices.”
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Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée revoked another bill she had on the table at the same time — Bill 59, which focused on hate speech — after the opposition criticized it for going too far.
The Parti Québécois wants to see an outright ban of the niqab, although newly elected leader, Jean-François Lisée suggested he would support it anyway.
“It’s a small step forward. I’m open to making that step and then doing more when we’re in government,” he said.
“It’s a way for the Liberal Party to get rid of that discussion. They don’t want to talk about religious symbols, it’s clear,” said CAQ MNA, Nathalie Roy.
Roy said her party wants to outlaw religious symbols for police officers, judges and prison guards. She added that there’s a reason dozens of groups have dropped out of the Bill 62 hearings.
“They were invited and when they got the bill, they said, ‘My God, there’s nothing in that,'” she said.
Muslim groups will get their chance to talk about this face covering ban in the weeks to come.