Quebec religious neutrality bill suspended by Superior Court judge
The province’s religious neutrality law has been suspended by a Quebec Superior Court judge.
Section 10 of the Act (personnel members or those receiving services must have their faces uncovered) will be stayed until the final guidelines are published next July.
The court judgement states individuals should be given the opportunity “to seek accommodation on religious grounds” from the law.
“The applicants plead that a woman who covers her face for religious reasons and who seeks public service will experience violation of her religious freedom and equality. This, they insist, is unconstitutional,” the judgement reads.
In her court declaration, Marie-Michelle Lacoste, a Muslim since 2003 who has been wearing the niqab since 2011, wrote that she “feels concerned about using public services” and “has experienced an increase in personal harassment and insults outside of her home.”
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Nevertheless, the province argued that public interest “must weigh heavily in the balance” and those demanding that the law be suspended have “failed to demonstrate that they have suffered irreparable harm.”
The judgement disputes that, insisting that harm, in this case, cannot be monetarily quantified, or cured.
It states that “the legislature could not have been clearer about its intentions,” saying that the very name of Bill 62 — An Act to foster adherence to state religious neutrality — acknowledges that people may be discriminated against because of the legislation.
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The judgement found that, despite the bill being tabled by Justice Minister Stephanie Vallée in 2015, there has been no rush to include information on how it will handle religious accommodations.
“Religious neutrality, while perhaps a lofty goal, is not time sensitive,” it states.
“Why then bring into force an incomplete state religious neutrality law before July 1, 2018?”
The controversial bill was passed by the National Assembly with a vote of 66-51 last October.
Some estimate there are about 50 women who cover their faces with a niqab or burqa in the province.
Advocates have long said that the bill violates a person’s right to freedom of religion and right to equality in the Quebec Charter and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
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