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Quebec considers legal options as judge temporarily suspends face-covering law

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said the issue is no longer in the political sphere. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

The Quebec government will wait for its lawyers to study a court decision this week that temporarily suspended a law banning people from covering their faces when receiving or giving a public service before deciding on its next step.

Premier Philippe Couillard told reporters Friday in New York City, where he’s on an official trip, that it will be up to the province’s lawyers to determine whether to challenge the ruling as the province’s religious neutrality rules go into effect on Sunday.

READ MORE: Quebec judge once again suspends application of province’s religious neutrality law

Section 10 of Quebec’s law on religious neutrality, passed in October 2017, requires everyone to show their faces when receiving or giving a public service.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Marc-Andre Blanchard ruled Thursday that Section 10 cannot enter into force until it goes through judicial review because of the irreparable harm it will cause Muslim women.

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Couillard said the issue is no longer in the political sphere.

“We will wait for the legal opinion, this is not a political decision,” Couillard said.

“It’s a decision that must come after a legal analysis, but what it shows is that we are in a very delicate area of the law.”

A judge suspended Section 10 in December 2017 until the government published clear guidelines under which someone could apply for a religious accommodation to the rules.

READ MORE: Quebec minister says ‘person’s choice’ to hide face – but you can be refused services

The Quebec government published the guidelines in May, and they were set to come into force on July 1.

Blanchard ruled the guidelines are not clear enough, and confusion and uncertainty still exists regarding how the accommodation process would be applied.

Couillard wouldn’t concede the law was confusing, instead attacking opposition parties and challenging them to explain how their proposals would stand up to the court test, given they’ve vowed to go even further.

READ MORE: Quebec releases criteria for requesting exemption under religious neutrality law

Opposition parties have argued the legislation didn’t go far enough to enshrine the concept of state secularism into law, while Muslim and civil rights groups said it targeted Muslim women who wear face veils.

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Agnes Maltais, the Parti Québécois secularism critic, said her party has been saying for several months that secularism should be incorporated into Quebec’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as is the case in Europe.

“Adding secularism to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms makes it possible to look at laws like the one on face coverings in a different way by judges,” Maltais said.

“It provides a framework for the way we want to live in Quebec, and that is in a secular society.”

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