Hearings on Bill 94, the Quebec government’s proposal to set guidelines on the reasonable accommodation of religious differences — including banning Islamic face coverings in some circumstances – are closing. Several critics have underscored the brevity of the hearings. Louise Beaudoin, the Parti Quebecois immigration critic, noted that in the hearings, no one has offered a ringing endorsement of Bill 94, with the first Islamic group to testify describing as “Islamophobic.”
Ms. Beaudoin also noted that Bill 16, an earlier attempt by the Jean Charest government to deal with so-called “reasonable accommodation,” was abandoned by the government in the face of opposition. It was also confirmed that hearings would resume in August. An aide to Jacques Dupuis, the government house leader, said this was for “scheduling reasons.”
Salam Elmenyawi, chairman of the Muslim Council of Montreal, said that if the move indicates the government intends to back down on Bill 94, he welcomes suspension of public hearings. “It’s clear this law is made against the Muslim community,” he said. Bill 94 was presented after two Muslim women wearing niqabs were expelled from French courses for immigrants because they refused to remove their face veils.
Quebec will refuse all government services, including education and non-emergency health care, to fully veiled Muslim women under legislation tabled yesterday in the National Assembly.
Jean Charest, the Liberal Premier, said the bill establishing guidelines for the accommodation of religious minorities is aimed at “drawing a line” to demonstrate that gender equality is a paramount Quebec value. The bill applies not only to government departments and Crown corporations but also to hospitals, schools, universities and daycares that receive funding from the province.
The proposed guidelines in Bill 94 follow an uproar this month over the expulsion of a niqab-wearing woman from French courses after she insisted that male students in her class not see her face. Quebec’s Immigration Department tracked her to a second college where she was studying French and had her expelled again because she would not remove her niqab, a veil that leaves open a slit for the eyes.
Quebec, which for more than three years has been grappling with the issue of accommodating religious differences, is the first province to take such a stance against the niqab and burqa. In Ontario, women wearing a full veil can make special arrangements to receive government services without exposing their faces to male bureaucrats.
Mr. Weinstock said Quebec is addressing head-on issues that are being ignored elsewhere in Canada. “This is a very good thing,” he said. “Whatever happens as a result of the debates in the National Assembly over this bill, and whatever the final form of this legislation is, we are having a very interesting societal debate here in Quebec that has to do with issues that are not specific to Quebec.”
Most Canadians agree with a proposed Quebec law that would refuse all government services to women wearing the niqab or burqa, an Angus Reid poll has found.
Ninety-five per cent of Quebecers support the proposed law, which would bar the face veil from government offices, schools and other publicly funded institutions, said the poll, conducted for The Gazette. In the rest of Canada, three out of four people agreed with Bill 94, which was tabled on Wednesday by the government of Jean Charest. The bill would require all public-sector employees to have their faces uncovered, as well as any citizen using government services, such as someone applying for a medicare card.
Mario Canseco, vice-president of public affairs for Angus Reid, said the survey shows an unusually high level of support for a government measure. “It’s very rare to get 80% of Canadians to agree on something,” he said. The poll showed that outside Quebec, Albertans are most likely to support the veil ban, with 82% approving the bill, followed by Ontario with 77% support, the Atlantic provinces (73%) and British Columbia (70%). Support for withholding government services from those wearing the face veil was lowest in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, at 65%.
Bloc Quebecois supporters favored the bill most (95%), along with Conservatives (86%) and Liberals (81%). Three-quarters of NDP supporters agreed with the bill.
The long-awaited 96-page report on “reasonable accommodation” was released last week in Québec, concluding that Quebecois can no longer define themselves in terms of their French-Canadian heritage and should accept immigrants more readily. Philosopher Charles Taylor and sociologist Gérald Bouchard based the report following hearings across the province and having reviewed more than 900 briefs submitted by the public. Of the 21 specific cases studied by the commission’s researchers, only six were found to have been reported in the media without distortion. The report concludes that high-profile incidents like prenatal classes that supposedly barred fathers to avoid offending Muslims and a maple-sugar shack that agreed to serve halal meals were overblown. The report states, “We can only ask ourselves what form debate would have taken if the public had obtained complete, objective information.” The hijab figures prominently in the commission’s findings. Prime Minister Jean Charest has promised to act quickly in response.
The long-awaited 96-page report on reasonable accommodation was released last week in Quebec, concluding that Quebecers can no longer define themselves in terms of their French-Canadian heritage and should accept immigrants more readily. Philosopher Charles Taylor and sociologist Gerald Bouchard based the report following hearings across the province and having reviewed more than 900 briefs submitted by the public. Of the 21 specific cases studied by the commission’s researchers, only six were found to have been reported in the media without distortion. The report concludes that high-profile incidents like prenatal classes that supposedly barred fathers to avoid offending Muslims and a maple-sugar shack that agreed to serve halal meals were overblown. The report states, We can only ask ourselves what form debate would have taken if the public had obtained complete, objective information. The hijab figures prominently in the commission’s findings. Prime Minister Jean Charest has promised to act quickly in response.
The report by sociologist G_rard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor, based on their reasonable accommodation debates in the province, states that there is a problem of perception and not a problem with integrating immigrants. Bouchard and Taylor claim that both the francophone and immigrant communities must come together in a moral contract to ensure social harmony. Immigrants should learn French while the majority francophone population must also participate in the integration of Qu_bec society. The commission added that in trying to accommodate the needs of minorities, courts should be avoided. The province’s premier, Jean Charest, added, We cannot erase our history. The crucifix is about 350 years of history in Quebec that none of us are ever going to erase, and of a very strong presence, in particular of the Catholic Church.