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.
This article in La Presse suggests that the remainder of Canadian provinces would have been less likely than the provincial government of Quebec to expel a niqab-wearing woman in a language class for wearing a niqab. The journalist suggests that students in similar classes in Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Colombia are permitted to keep their niqabs.
After months of balancing a woman’s religious beliefs with her desire to learn French, the Quebec government stepped into her classroom to offer an ultimatum: take off the niqab or drop the course. The woman opted to keep her Islamic face-covering and has filed a human rights complaint against the government. In the province of Quebec where the government frequently faces accusations of doing too much to accommodate minorities, these actions have prompted a fair bit of praise.
The woman began taking a French course designed for immigrants at a Montreal college in February 2009 but she refused to remove her niqab while men were present. The college was initially willing to accommodate her, but eventually balked as her demands escalated. In what appears to be a highly unusual move, provincial Immigration Minister Yolande James intervened. Officials from her department, acting with the minister’s knowledge, met with the woman to discuss her options.
Several groups, including several teachers’ unions, applauded the government for drawing a line in the sand. So did moderate Muslim groups. “When people come to Canada, we’re not coming to the Islamic Republic of Canada,” said Raheel Raza, a Muslim women’s-rights activist who has argued for a public ban on religious face coverings. The Canadian Muslim Forum, which claimed the woman was intimidated by other members of her class, said the move amounts to a misreading of the situation.”In Quebec people have the right to wear what they want,” spokeswoman Kathy Malas said.