Judge suspends Quebec face-covering ban, says it appears to violate charter

Not a major surprise:

The portion of Quebec’s religious neutrality law that dictates when Quebecers must leave their faces uncovered in order to receive public services has been suspended for a second time, only days before it was slated to go into effect.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Marc-André Blanchard issued the ruling Thursday, handing another victory to civil liberties groups that argue the law discriminates against Muslim women who wear niqab​s or burkas.

Blanchard said Section 10, which pertains to face coverings, appears to be “a violation” of the Canadian and Quebec charters, which “provide for freedom of conscience and religion.”

The judge concluded that “irreparable harm will be caused to Muslim women” if the relevant section of the law had gone into effect on July 1.

He ordered Section 10 suspended until a challenge to the law is heard in court.

The same portion of the law was suspended in December.

In that ruling, another Quebec Superior Court justice ordered the provincial government to produce accommodation guidelines dictating how the restrictions on face coverings would work in practice.

Those guidelines are slated to go into effect July 1, but the sections on face coverings will now no longer apply.

The civil rights groups challenging the law argued the guidelines place a greater burden on the individuals affected.

“We’re very happy with the decision,” said Catherine McKenzie, who was part of the legal team that challenged the law’s constitutionality on behalf of Warda Naili, a Quebec woman who wears a niqab.

“This law has an important impact on women who cover their faces for religious reasons. Women were going to be potentially cut off from very basic services so it was important for us to ask for the law to be stayed again.”

‘Confusion and uncertainty’

In his ruling, Blanchard also noted there is still “confusion and uncertainty” about how the process will work.

The guidelines, released in May, state that exemptions to the law, previously known as Bill 62, can only be granted to individuals on religious grounds if the demand is serious, doesn’t violate the rights of others and doesn’t impose “undue hardships.”

The Quebec government left it up to individual public bodies, however, to decide how to handle accommodation requests, and requires each body to appoint an official to make those decisions.

The office of Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée, who has been the point person on the law, said it is analyzing the judgment and that it is still within the 30-day appeal period.

When the guidelines were announced in May, Vallée said each request needs to be taken in its own context.

“If a person wearing a burka or a niqab wants to make a request, that request will be processed,” said Vallée.

“It would be determined on a case by case [basis], following a request. Is this someone who has a sincere belief who is wearing this piece of clothing regularly, in their daily life, or if the request is being put forward with the aim of getting an advantage.”

Source: Judge suspends Quebec face-covering ban, says it appears to violate charter

Accommodement raisonnable: la règle du cas par cas s’appliquera

In other words, sounds like the overall Canadian approach to accommodation requests:

Près de sept mois après l’adoption de la « loi 62 », la ministre de la Justice, Stéphanie Vallée, a dévoilé mercredi les lignes directrices visant à « guider » les organismes publics dans le traitement de demandes d’accommodement pour un motif religieux reçues à compter du 1er juillet prochain.

Ces lignes directrices ne forment pas un « cadre d’analyse unique », a-t-elle souligné à gros traits en conférence de presse mercredi après-midi. Du coup, chaque demande devra continuer d’être traitée au « cas par cas ».

Installation d’une vitre givrée dans un gymnase, aménagement d’un lieu de prière dans un établissement public, octroi d’un congé lors d’une fête religieuse, Mme Vallée a refusé d’illustrer l’application des nouvelles lignes directrices au moyen d’exemples de demandes d’accommodement raisonnable ou déraisonnable. « Vous me faites une demande très générale dans un contexte très général. Ce qui est important de bien saisir dans les demandes d’accommodement, c’est que ces demandes-là sont formulées dans un contexte particulier, à un organisme particulier, par une personne particulière », a-t-elle fait valoir à la presse. Chaque demande d’accommodement pour un motif religieux sera « étudiée au cas par cas », et ce, « en fonction du contexte au moment où la demande est formulée », a-t-elle ajouté.

Cela dit, un accommodement sera octroyé seulement si une série de conditions prévues par la Loi favorisant le respect de la neutralité religieuse sont respectées, a expliqué Mme Vallée. Parmi elles : « le demandeur doit croire sincèrement qu’il est obligé de se conformer à cette conviction ou cette pratique dans le cadre de sa foi ». L’accommodement demandé ne doit pas entrer en collision avec, d’une part, le droit à l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes et, d’autre part, le droit de toute personne d’être traitée sans discrimination. Autrement dit, le droit des autres usagers ou employés de l’organisme assujetti à la « loi 62 » de ne pas subir de discrimination fondée sur leur sexe, leur race, leur identité de genre, leur orientation sexuelle ou tout autre motif interdit par la Charte des droits et libertés de la personne doit demeurer intact.

Les fonctionnaires devront aussi avoir « en tête les principes de sécurité, de communication et d’identification » lorsqu’ils analyseront les demandes d’accommodement faites par une personne tenant à garder le visage couvert lorsqu’elle reçoit un service public en raison de ses convictions religieuses, a rappelé la ministre de la Justice.

« Les demandes d’accommodement pour motif religieux sont déjà traitées dans les organismes en ce moment, à la lumière des règles élaborées au fil du temps par la jurisprudence. […] La publication des lignes directrices facilitera une meilleure compréhension de la loi, mais aussi, et surtout, une mise en oeuvre plus harmonieuse. »

Gérard Bouchard et Charles Taylor, qui ont coprésidé la Commission de consultation sur les pratiques d’accommodement reliées aux différences culturelles il y a dix ans, ont mis la main à la pâte, a mentionné Mme Vallée au détour d’une réponse.

Un répondant sera désigné dans chaque organisme pour traiter les demandes d’accommodement pour motif religieux. « Ce n’est pas chaque chauffeur, ce n’est pas chaque employé qui est responsable de [traiter] la demande. Ce seront les répondants », a martelé Mme Vallée en conférence de presse.

Un demandeur qui essuie un refus pourra interjeter appel devant la Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse. « Comme c’est le cas actuellement », a précisé Mme Vallée.

La sous-ministre à la Justice a transmis mercredi après-midi les lignes directrices à ses homologues dans les autres ministères. Les commissions scolaires, les cégeps, les universités, les municipalités, les sociétés de transport recevront également un exemplaire. Des « formations » y seront organisées prochainement, a indiqué Mme Vallée.

Les organismes ont les coudées franches pour rejeter toute demande d’accommodement non raisonnable, selon le gouvernement libéral. En effet, l’accommodement demandé ne doit pas imposer une contrainte excessive à l’organisme visé, c’est-à-dire « nui[re], de façon importante à sa prestation de services, à sa mission [et] à la qualité de ses services ».

D’ailleurs, le demandeur devra « collabore[r] à la recherche d’une solution satisfaisante et raisonnable », notamment en faisant « des compromis pour limiter les contraintes que sa demande peut causer », peut-on lire sur la fiche d’information produite par le ministère de la Justice.

Le coin droit du document est orné d’une fleur de lys formée d’individus, tandis que le coin gauche loge le slogan du gouvernement, « Ensemble… on agit pour une société juste et équitable ».

« Les demandes d’accommodements ont comme objectif d’assurer le respect des droits fondamentaux individuels, d’éviter les situations de discrimination entre les citoyens, elles visent à atteindre l’équité au sein de la société québécoise et non, comme certains le perçoivent, à accorder un traitement de faveur », a souligné Stéphanie Vallée. « Ce ne sont pas toutes les demandes présentées qui constituent une demande d’accommodements, et ce ne sont pas toutes les demandes d’accommodements qui peuvent être accordées », a-t-elle ajouté.

Le Parti québécois et la Coalition avenir Québec ont réagi au quart de tour.

Les lignes directrices n’ajoutent rien à la « loi 62 », déplore la députée péquiste Agnès Maltais. « Ça [en] laisse encore beaucoup sur les épaules des employés », a-t-elle dit.

Selon sa compréhension, les femmes de confession musulmane pourront porter le niqab ou la burka au Québec, « sauf dans le cas où un employé [d’un organisme] — et c’est là que ça revient sur les épaules de l’employé — demande une identification pour des raisons de communication ou de sécurité ».

« Stéphanie Vallée ouvre la porte à un accommodement religieux pour le niqab et la burqa si la croyance est “sincère” et elle ajoute encore plus de confusion à sa loi 62. C’était un fouillis, c’est maintenant un foutoir ! » a poursuivi la députée caquiste Nathalie Roy mercredi après-midi. Elle promet de commenter plus longuement le dossier à l’Assemblée nationale jeudi.

La ministre Stéphanie Vallée tâchera de démêler les incompréhensions des partis politiques d’opposition en commission parlementaire d’ici la fin de la session parlementaire, prévue le 15 juin prochain.

La totalité de la loi favorisant le respect de la neutralité religieuse — y compris l’article 10 indiquant qu’une personne offrant ou recevant un service public « doit avoir le visage découvert », qui a été invalidé par la Cour supérieure en décembre dernier — pourra être appliquée à compter du 1er juillet prochain, est-elle persuadée.

Source: Accommodement raisonnable: la règle du cas par cas s’appliquera

Port du hijab: première demande d’accommodement raisonnable adressée au DGEQ | Le Devoir

And so the cases and eventual challenges begin:

Le directeur général des élections du Québec (DGEQ) a reçu une demande d’accommodement raisonnable pour contourner un règlement jugé discriminatoire par certains partis politiques, a appris Le Devoir. Il s’agit d’une femme portant le hijab qui, souhaitant se présenter aux prochaines élections provinciales, a demandé une dérogation lui permettant de joindre à son dossier de candidature une photo d’elle avec son voile, ce qui est actuellement interdit par le DGEQ.

« C’est la première demande d’accommodement raisonnable qu’on a eue à ce sujet », a confirmé Stéphanie Isabelle, porte-parole du DGEQ. Elle reconnaît toutefois avoir déjà reçu des commentaires et critiques incitant à modifier le règlement.

L’article 6 du Règlement sur la déclaration de candidature mentionne en effet que la photographie jointe au dossier doit donner « une vue de face complète du candidat à partir des épaules, tête découverte », ce qui empêche toute personne portant un turban, un voile ou même un bandana, de se présenter. Cet article a été vivement contesté auprès du DGEQ par divers partis politiques, dont Québec solidaire et le Parti vert, qui souhaiteraient présenter les candidats de leur choix, sans entrave pour une question de couvre-chef.

Le Devoir avait révélé il y a deux semaines qu’en 2014, le DGEQ avait refusé la candidature de Fatimata Sow, qui se présentait pour le Parti vert dans La Pinière, parce qu’elle avait fourni une photo d’elle coiffée d’un hijab. Craignant les répercussions négatives sur sa candidature, l’aspirante candidate n’avait pas voulu rendre son histoire publique à l’époque et avait renoncé à se présenter.

Modification possible

N’hésitant pas à parler de « discrimination systémique », le chef du Parti vert, Alex Tyrrell, a multiplié les démarches, notamment auprès de la ministre Kathleen Weil, anciennement à l’Immigration et récemment aux Institutions démocratiques. Celle-ci a récemment déclaré que le pouvoir de modifier le règlement appartenait au DGEQ actuel, Pierre Reid, qui a confirmé qu’il était en train de revoir ce règlement dans son ensemble. « Depuis l’automne, en prévision des prochaines élections, on est en révision de notre matériel électoral et ça inclut le formulaire de déclaration de candidature », a réitéré au Devoir Stéphanie Isabelle.

Seul le Québec possède une telle obligation. L’exigence de fournir une photo « tête découverte » n’existe pas aux niveaux fédéral et municipal, une preuve étant l’élection du député et chef du Nouveau Parti démocratique, Jagmeet Singh. Elle n’existe pas non plus pour obtenir une carte d’assurance maladie du Québec, un permis de conduire ou un passeport, où la loi interdit d’être photographié avec un couvre-chef, sauf si celui-ci est porté tous les jours pour des raisons religieuses ou médicales.

Des partis peu bavards

C’est d’ailleurs ce qu’a fait valoir la future candidate en soumettant sa demande d’accommodement au DGEQ au début du mois de décembre. Elle préférerait toutefois que le règlement soit modifié au lieu de bénéficier d’un accommodement, qui n’a généralement pas bonne presse.

Interrogé sur la procédure à suivre lorsqu’une demande d’accommodement est soumise, le DGEQ a dit qu’il n’y a pas de « procédure prévue pour le moment dans la loi électorale ». Une modification au règlement servirait à régler le problème, mais elle devra être approuvée par l’Assemblée nationale et suivre les étapes, jusqu’à la publication dans la Gazette officielle.

Après plusieurs jours de sollicitation, les principaux partis politiques se sont montrés très avares de commentaires. Le Parti québécois a dit qu’il discutera peut-être de la question à son prochain caucus à la fin de janvier, tandis que le Parti libéral du Québec s’est contenté de dire qu’il se conformera à la Loi électorale et aux règlements du DGEQ. La Coalition avenir Québec n’a pas souhaité faire de commentaires.

via Port du hijab: première demande d’accommodement raisonnable adressée au DGEQ | Le Devoir

Ottawa unlikely to send Quebec’s face-covering law to top court

Sensible approach:

Ottawa is unlikely to pre-emptively refer Quebec’s controversial face-covering law to the Supreme Court, where little evidence could be presented on Bill 62’s actual impact on individual Muslim women, federal officials said.

Senior government sources said all options are still on the table, but that Ottawa is likelier to intervene in a coming court challenge than refer the matter to the Supreme Court for an immediate ruling on the law’s constitutionality.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised both of these options over the weekend as he continued to denounce the law that calls on Quebeckers to show their face when giving or receiving services in places such as libraries, university classrooms, daycares and on buses. Critics of the legislation have denounced the fact it affects Muslim women who cover their faces, with Mr. Trudeau stating governments shouldn’t tell women what to wear.

The quickest way to have a formal ruling on the constitutionality of the law would be to refer the matter directly to the Supreme Court. Still, federal officials and experts said a Supreme Court reference would feature more of a theoretical debate among lawyers on the constitutionality of Bill 62 than an actual exploration of the law’s effect on citizens.

“It’s difficult to get to the bottom of a question by looking at it in theory. It’s much better to look at the case in practical terms,” said a senior federal official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the government’s current thinking on the file.

Experts said it would be easier to gauge the impact of the law on individuals through the court challenge that is set to be heard by the Quebec Superior Court, where Muslim women will be appearing as witnesses.

“In a reference [to the Supreme Court], you don’t have testimony or evidence on the actual impact on people and any limits to their rights and freedoms,” retired Supreme Court justice Louis LeBel, who is now in private practice, said in an interview. “What you get to look at are legal and intellectual issues and the law’s overall impact on society.”

Supreme Court references have sporadically been used by the federal government over the years to gain clarity on issues such as a province’s right to unilateral secession. The Harper government also relied on the process in 2013 to determine the constitutionality of possible reforms to the Senate.

Daniel Proulx, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Sherbrooke, said sending Quebec’s face-covering law to the Supreme Court would be seen as an affront to the provincial government.

“A reference would be a frontal attack,” he said. “In my view, the federal government will intervene in the court challenge. … It would be less confrontational.”

There has been heated debate across Canada in recent weeks on the federal government’s proper response to Bill 62, which aims to promote “religious neutrality” in Quebec. The NDP and a number of Liberal MPs have said Ottawa should let the debate play out at the provincial level, while others have argued for a strong federal intervention.

Earlier this month, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and Canadian Civil Liberties Association launched a court challenge in Quebec Superior Court, seeking to suspend the application of the section dealing with uncovering one’s face until a full constitutional challenge is heard.

There will be a first hearing on the application for a stay on Friday. A federal observer will be in the room to monitor the process, but federal lawyers will not get involved in the groups’ request to suspend the application of the law, sources said.

A federal official said Ottawa has yet to decide whether to intervene in the challenge, and if it does, at which stage of the process federal lawyers would make their case.

“If you decide to intervene, when do you intervene? Right now? At the appeal stage? Or do you wait until you are at the Supreme Court?” the official said. “There is no rule, no magic recipe.”

On Saturday, Mr. Trudeau said his government is closely monitoring the application of the law adopted by the Quebec National Assembly last month.

“We’re listening to the questions being asked about it and, internally, we’re in the process of studying the different processes we could initiate or that we could join,” he said.

via Ottawa unlikely to send Quebec’s face-covering law to top court – The Globe and Mail

Quebec’s Bill 62 splits federal Liberals amid calls to ignore court challenge

Not surprising:

Quebec’s face-covering law is exposing divisions among federal Liberals, with staunch defenders of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on one side and a large number of Quebec MPs who fear becoming political casualties of the contentious debate on the other.

Several Liberal MPs are calling on the government to stay out of the coming court challenge to the law, including some of the most vocal opponents of Bill 62 in caucus.

The Trudeau government has responded with a carefully calibrated response: stating that women have the right to dress as they want, while refusing to be drawn into an open confrontation with the provincial government.

The Liberal government’s decision to stay on the sidelines has created anger among opponents of the legislation who feel it is a full-on assault of Charter rights targeted at Muslim women. Passed last month, the provincial law requires people to show their face when giving or receiving services in places such as libraries, university classrooms, daycares and buses.

Federal officials said the government has yet to decide whether it will participate in the coming court challenge, which was launched this week by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and Canadian Civil Liberties Association. If Ottawa participates in the judicial showdown, federal lawyers will have to publicly state their views on the Charter issues raised by the law, which could contribute to its defeat.

Liberal Party officials said that Quebec MPs and ministers have been urging their colleagues from other parts of the country to cool their rhetoric on the issue in recent weeks.

“The Quebec caucus was very clear … in telling our colleagues, our ministers, that this is a file that belongs to the Quebec government,” said Liberal MP Rémi Massé, who is the chair of the party’s Quebec caucus. “This is [the Quebec government’s] responsibility and we are giving them the necessary leeway to do what they feel they have to do. With the court challenges that are starting, it’s up to them to react accordingly.”

Liberal MP Alexandra Mendès has been one of the most vocal critics of the law, but she said Ottawa should continue to stay out of the matter at least until it reaches the Supreme Court of Canada.

“I think right now, the government should just let it play out in Quebec and see how the courts in Quebec look at this,” said Ms. Mendès, who represents a riding on Montreal’s south shore. “The fact that I have a very strong opinion doesn’t mean that the government should necessarily intervene right away.”

Another opponent of Bill 62, Liberal MP Raj Grewal, said the law goes against his vision of the country, but added the government needs to respect “the National Assembly’s ability to pass their own laws.”

“I’m fundamentally happy that it is going to be challenged because in my humble opinion, it goes against everything that Canada stands for,” said Mr. Grewal, the MP for Brampton East.

Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio, a lawyer who represents a Montreal riding, said Ottawa cannot take the lead when it comes time to challenging the constitutionality of provincial laws.

“The federal government’s role is not to act as law enforcement for the legislatures,” he said. “There are organized groups that are sufficiently resourced to be able to raise these issues, and the federal government should not be at the forefront of such a topic.”

While the law has exposed political fault lines across the country, it has garnered support in all regions of Canada. According to a Nanos survey conducted for The Globe and Mail, 63 per cent of Canadians support or somewhat support Bill 62.

Support for the law is highest in Quebec (69.4 per cent), the Prairies (63.5 per cent) and the Atlantic provinces (62 per cent), but Ontario (59.4 per cent) and British Columbia (58.4 per cent) are not far off behind. The poll of 1,000 Canadians was conducted between Nov. 4 and 7 and is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20

Pollster Nik Nanos said the results show how “this is a no-win situation” for the Liberals. “The message to the government is that this is a political minefield,” he said.

To this point, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has walked a fine line on the law, always stopping short of vowing to fight it in court.

“As I’ve said several times, I don’t think a government should be telling a woman what to wear or not wear,” he has said. “We are looking very carefully at what tools we have and what steps we have to make sure we make this situation better for everyone.”

Liberal MPs from Quebec said they don’t want the debate to turn into a federal-provincial battle, or a symbol of Ottawa’s interference in Quebec’s affairs. One of the worst scenarios would be for Quebec to use the notwithstanding clause to keep the law on the books even if it is defeated in court, a Liberal MP from Quebec said.

The groups who filed a court challenge in Quebec Superior Court on Tuesday said the law is unconstitutional and discriminates against Muslim women.

“I live in fear,” co-plaintiff Warda Naili said at a news conference in Montreal. “I don’t know what will happen when I go out. I don’t know how people will react because of this law.”

via Quebec’s Bill 62 splits federal Liberals amid calls to ignore court challenge – The Globe and Mail

Andrew Coyne: The federal government can’t stand by when minority rights are being trampled

Coyne on Bill 62 and the need for a federal challenge (I understand the government’s prudence):

By now Quebec’s Bill 62 has been fairly comprehensively discredited, in all its nastiness, its contradictions and its dishonesties. A law passed in the name of the secular state would leave intact such overtly religious symbols of the state as the cross on Quebec’s flag, or the crucifix on the wall of the National Assembly. In the name of religious neutrality, it bans the wearing of some religious symbols — those that obscure the face, like the niqab or burka some Muslim women wear — while ignoring others.

At the same time, to avoid accusations of religious discrimination, it extends to other face-coverings, e.g. sunglasses, that have nothing to do with religion — though it is explicitly called an “act to foster adherence to state religious neutrality.” Yet for all its emphasis on the state, it applies not only to providers of public services, but also recipients, which is to say not the state or its employees but ordinary citizens.

Far from defending religious freedom, then, it would radically restrict it. Far from protecting women from oppression by their own religion, as its apologists argue, it not only limits what they may wear in public, but in so doing arguably makes them more vulnerable than ever. Perhaps some women who wear the niqab or the burka do so involuntarily, but if so it is hard to see how denying them access to such life-expanding options as going to school or even taking the bus will help.

The right to go to school or to take the bus: in the history of civil rights in North America, these have a certain resonance. For all the belated attempts by the province’s Liberal government to clarify — women would, it now says, only be required to show their faces when getting on the bus, not for the duration of the trip, while those wishing to attend class could apply for special accommodation, on a case-by-base basis — the stark reality is a bill that, at best, needlessly singles out members of a religious minority for petty harassment and humiliation. Members of the same minority, you will recall, were just months ago victims of a mass murder in a Quebec City mosque.

The bill has met with its share of opposition in Quebec, though for different reasons: while civil libertarians, civic leaders and university administrations have denounced its excesses, the province’s two main opposition parties, the Coalition Avenir Quebec and Parti Québécois protest only that it does not go nearly far enough. It seems unlikely, then, that the remedy for this injustice will be found in Quebec.

The question is what other means might be found. Are we content, those of us living outside Quebec, that our fellow citizens should be treated in such a demeaning fashion, on the grounds that what happens in Quebec is none of our business? Or does living in the same country imply certain common understandings, however few, among them basic guarantees of equal rights?

To be sure, the law will quite certainly be challenged in court, under both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its Quebec analogue, and will in all likelihood end up before the Supreme Court of Canada. It is difficult to see how it could withstand such scrutiny; whatever watery purpose might be conjured up as a rationale, it would be a challenge to show how the law was likely to achieve it, still less that it did so in the least harmful way possible.

Should it be left at that? Wait for some member of the public to object at her mistreatment, then wait years more while the case grinds through appeal after appeal? Or does the federal government have an obligation to intervene in some way? In the early years after Confederation, that was exactly how the federal government’s role was conceived: to protect minorities from local majorities, if necessary by setting aside provincial legislation, under a power known as disallowance.

It’s been a long time since any federal government has exercised that power, of course: the Charter and the Supreme Court might seem to make it unnecessary. Yet it was not only by the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court that minority rights were upheld in the southern states: the offices of the federal government also proved necessary.

The feds would not have standing to challenge the law directly in court, but they could join a case brought by a private citizen as intervenors. More aggressively, they could refer the law directly to the Supreme Court for an opinion on its constitutionality, as they did in the matter of a previous Quebec law claiming the right to secede unilaterally.

I understand the arguments against this: that it would inflame federal-provincial tensions, perhaps even revive separatist sentiment. But we should understand what it means when we invoke such fears as reasons for inaction, as we have in the past. We are saying that the rights of the minority can be sacrificed in the name of “social peace,” or “national unity,” or whatever other euphemism we might devise for “we haven’t got the stomach for it.”

And however much we might prefer the courts to do the heavy lifting for us, we might not have that luxury. Already the opposition is pushing the Couillard government to invoke the notwithstanding clause in the event the law is ruled unconstitutional; the government, for its part, has not ruled it out. And what would we do then?

Source: National Post

Bill 62: The European experience shows us it’s a bad idea: Fahmy

Mihad Fahmy of NCCM on Quebec’s niqab ban.

The issue is more with respect to women wearing niqabs being able to receive or use public services rather than blocking opportunities for them to work in public services as no cases to date have arisen to my knowledge (any case unlikely to go unnoticed). This latter issue has been largely absent from public commentary (not convinced that this would pass a reasonable accommodation test given the needs of an integrated workforce):

To understand the effects of Quebec’s Bill 62, it is important to understand what is going on in Europe. Driving the wedge deeper into an already divided society, Quebec politicians are copying policies that produce predictable results: rising xenophobia, violence against minorities and discrimination.

Historically, Canada has had a more accommodating approach to individual liberty than European countries, where the case law and legal discourse is built on the premise that public spaces and, by extension, public institutions and actors must be made to be religiously “neutral” in both form and substance.

In March, 2017, the European Court of Justice extended this principle when it ruled that private employers, like their public counterparts, can ban Muslim women from wearing the hijab in the workplace, so long as the rule applied to all employees.

The case reached the European court as a result of appeals by an office receptionist in Belgium and a professional design engineer in France, both of whom were fired for refusing to remove their headscarves at work.

In its ruling, the ECJ held that rules banning “the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign” were not discriminatory so long as they applied to religious garb from all faiths. Activists, lawyers and academics alike agree that this decision is significant, as it marks the first time the neutrality argument has been successfully used to justify restrictions on religious accommodation in the private sector.

European human rights advocates now fear that private-sector employees, predominately Muslim women, but also Sikh and Jewish men who wear religious garb, will be impacted by employers’ newfound entitlement to cloak discriminatory policies in the veil of religious neutrality.

Against this backdrop, the potential ramifications of Quebec’s Bill 62 are magnified. Despite its limited provincial reach, the law’s sweeping internal scope is alarming.

Women who wear the niqab (face veil) will be shut out of public-sector jobs and won’t be able to access municipal and provincial services. This includes going to university or college, registering kids for daycare or school, getting on a bus, applying for social assistance, taking out library books, registering kids for city recreational activities, and the list goes on. And despite their qualifications, niqabi women will also be ineligible for jobs within any of these workplaces, thereby further marginalizing an already vulnerable group of women.

As was evident this week, neutralizing the public sphere is not a straightforward endeavour. In attempting to clarify how this will all work, Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée explained that faces need to be uncovered only at the point of contact with the public servant. For example, a woman is required to show her face when signing out library books at the circulation desk but not while browsing new releases; the niqab will have to come off when boarding a bus that requires photo ID, but not once the woman sits down. Such formulaic pronouncements cannot restore the dignity of women seeking to go about living their day-to-day lives and will do little to quell principled public discontent.

Similar guidelines have not been provided with respect to other provisions of the bill that are garnering less attention but are of no less concern – those which seek to regulate not dress, but behaviour. The bill reads: “In the exercise of their functions, personnel members of public bodies must demonstrate religious neutrality.” There is no telling how this vague obligation will be interpreted and enforced.

Quebec employers would do well to heed the advice of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), when it argues that cultivating workplace neutrality entails turning one’s attention to the actual service being provided rather than the person delivering it. Otherwise, employers risk perpetuating discrimination.

The European experience tells us that nothing good can emerge from Bill 62. The Quebec government’s ill-conceived legislation only strengthens those elements in society pushing a dangerous us-versus-them agenda at the expense of constitutional rights and social cohesion. In a pluralistic society, this does not bode well for the future.

 Source: Bill 62: The European experience shows us it’s a bad idea – The Globe and Mail

Quebec’s secularism reigns supreme: Michael Adams

Michael Adams on the likely outcome of Quebec’s niqab ban. Not as sanguine as him given how these identity issues continue to poison Quebec politics:

Like Bill 101, Quebec’s (in)famous language law, Bill 62 is likely to be remembered for a long time, both within Quebec and elsewhere in the country. The reason is that the bill highlights differences between Quebec, where secularism reigns supreme, and the multicultural ideology embraced by the majority of those living in the rest of Canada.

Premier Philippe Couillard’s Liberal government is heading into a pre-election period and passed the law, which severely restricts the wearing of niqabs and burqas, to show Quebeckers that it cares about their core values.

A couple of generations ago, Roman Catholic Quebeckers en masse decided to no longer attend weekly service. After centuries under the religious domination of the church, the population flipped to secularism, as if overnight. The pews emptied, and good tee times became impossible to secure on the province’s golf courses on Sunday mornings.

One of the major implications of this radical rejection of traditional religious authority was the consequent embrace of gender equality. No longer would the daughter who could not find a husband be sent off to the convent to spend the rest of her life in service of a patriarchal church, wearing a black-and-white habit that covered her entire body, save her face.

When Quebeckers, especially former Catholics, see a Muslim woman wearing a niqab or a burka that covers the face, either entirely or except for her eyes, they see both their great aunt and a victim of religious patriarchy. And they don’t like it.

In this, they join their compatriots in France (and other Europeans) who have passed laws to ban a woman from wearing such clothing in public spaces, including on beaches where other women choose to go topless.

Canadians living outside Quebec may not like the idea of Muslim women wearing niqabs and burkas in public, but polls have found that a slim majority believe a ban is a bad idea, and no other province seems concerned enough to introduce legislation akin to Bill 62. One Ontario hospital, hoping to draw female talent, released an ad quipping that it cared more about what is in a woman’s head than what’s on it.

In the last federal election, when then prime minister Stephen Harper wished to deny a Muslim woman wearing a niqab the right to be sworn in as a Canadian citizen, public opinion, especially in Quebec, was initially with him. But then the Supreme Court weighed in, ruling that if she exposed her face to an agent of the Crown, she could be sworn in wearing her niqab.

This gesture, together with the “barbaric cultural practices” tip-line proposed by former Harper ministers Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander, also initially attracted public support. But then many people began to realize that their initial reactions clashed with their deeper-held values of empathy and tolerance. If these few women – and they only number in the few hundred across the country – really want to wear this clothing and they do no one any harm, then why the fuss?

The backlash to the backlash redounded more to the benefit of the crafty Liberals than the moralistic NDP leader Thomas Mulcair. Justin Trudeau sensed in the general public – and especially among the four in 10 of us who are first- and second-generation immigrants – that tolerance of difference was more Canadian than imposing strictures on religious garb. If the courts say it’s okay for a woman to wear a niqab, then so be it. A few years ago, the courts said it was okay for same-sex people to marry, and the rest of us quickly followed suit.

Canadians are generally open to immigration from around the world, believe newcomers are good for the economy, don’t take away jobs from other Canadians and don’t commit more crimes than others. Still, the majority of Canadians also believe that newcomers are not adopting Canadian values quickly enough, and those highly cherished values include gender equality and, in Quebec, secularism.

Where do we go from here? The Liberals passed Bill 62 to show they understand the values of the Québécois. But I imagine latitude will be left in the enforcement of the law, allowing for the kind of reasonable accommodation proposed by philosopher Charles Taylor and sociologist Gérard Bouchard in their report on these issues a few years ago.

Why? Because most people will respect the rule of law as expressed in the Quebec and Canadian charters of rights and freedoms; and because many will also be reminded of the treatment of women such as Rosa Parks in the Jim Crow U.S. South, and may reflect that it isn’t women dressed in niqabs, hijabs or otherwise clad who have done real harm to others, but rather young men of many faiths and no faith with a lot of hate in their hearts and a gun at their disposal. In Canada’s pluralistic liberal democracy, that’s the way values and democratic discourse have tended to mediate strident opinions.

Source: Quebec’s secularism reigns supreme – The Globe and Mail

Quebec’s face-covering bill unites rivals who together question the government’s competence: Hébert

Chantal Hébert on the comedy of errors with Bill 62 implementation:

With the law that prescribes that provincial and municipal services be rendered and received with one’s face uncovered, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has achieved the impossible. His Liberal government has reconciled the two opposite camps in the Quebec religious accommodation debate behind the notion that it is running a gong show.

A week after the adoption of the controversial law, one would be hard-pressed to find a good word about the just-adopted Bill 62 anywhere in the province’s media.

Even Quebec Liberal party insiders privately admit that they are flabbergasted by the improvisation that has attended the government foray into the religious accommodation minefield.

Over the past few days, Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée has offered conflicting interpretations of her own law, convincing critics that she is making up the rules that pertain to its application as she goes along.

Last week for instance, Vallée fended off allegations that her bill was discriminatory by arguing that the obligation to uncover one’s face to board a city bus would apply as equally to transit riders sporting large sunglasses as to the Muslim women who wear the niqab or burqa. They all would have to remove their face coverings for what she described as “the duration of the rendering of the public service.”

On Tuesday, Vallée walked back her talk, insisting that the prescription to uncover one’s face applied only to “interaction” between a citizen and a public servant. On that basis, most people could presumably board a bus or presumably take out a library book without showing their faces.

In Quebec, library cards do not feature photographs. Neither do transit passes except in the case of students and senior citizens who are expected to show proof of age to pay a reduced rate.

In any event, the minister assured that no one would ever be thrown off a bus on account of Bill 62 because — she said — someone who did not comply with the law would be left at the bus stop.

The minister’s convoluted explanations did little to reassure those who feel that the bill is a discriminatory solution in search of a problem. It is estimated that there are less than 300 Muslim women who wear a face-covering veil province-wide.

Moreover, as elsewhere in Canada it is already impossible in Quebec to obtain government-issued ID cards such as a driver’s license or a health card without allowing one’s picture to be taken with one’s face uncovered

Vallée’s latest take on her own bill also confirmed the fears of those who feel it is much too narrow

The PQ opposition is working on a more muscular version of Bill 62. It will feature the imposition of a secular dress code on public servants in positions of authority such as judges or police officers. The party also wants to explore the notion of banning face-covering veils from all public places. A pequiste government would use the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution to shelter its law from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Coalition Avenir Québec also has proposals that go well beyond the Liberal law. Both opposition parties will campaign on their proposals in next fall’s provincial election.

Meanwhile, opponents and proponents of state-enforced restrictions on the rights of religious minorities are united in questioning the competence of the Liberal government.

It is increasingly unclear what constituency Premier Couillard expected to satisfy with the government’s ill-conceived law.

The premier does have a well-documented tendency to political tone-deafness. Earlier this month he seemed surprised and frustrated that a cabinet shuffle that left his ministerial frontline essentially unchanged did not elicit rave reviews about his government sporting a new face.

At the time of the shuffle, Couillard maintained Vallée in her justice role even if she had consistently seemed to be in over her head in that portfolio.

Over the past week there has been a chorus of calls for Bill 62 to be withdrawn in its entirety. It would be pretty unprecedented for a ruling party to shelf a law it has just used its majority to adopt.

Until it is replaced by a government of a different stripe or possibly struck down by a court, Bill 62 will likely remain on the books where it primarily stands as a token of political turpitude.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/10/25/quebecs-face-covering-bill-unites-rivals-who-together-question-the-governments-competence-hbert.html

Why Quebec’s Bill 62 is an indefensible mess: Wells

Another great analysis and critique by Paul Wells, going through the issues one-by-one:

Before we begin: Look, I’m one of the good anglos, the ones who’ve lived in Quebec (largely in French) (and enjoyed it), understand at least some of its distinct ways and can recite at least some of the catechism by heart. In this July column I walked readers through the Quiet Revolution and its revolt against the dominance of the Roman Catholic church, to help explain why attitudes toward so-called ostentatious religious signs are often different there. “The Quiet Revolution in Quebec was specifically a rebellion against religious influence,” I wrote then. “Progressive politics in many other parts of the country has been a politics of generalized tolerance; in Quebec progressive politics was often a politics of specific resistance.”

That column won respectful comments from many in Quebec and a long Reddit thread of the imagine-finding-something-so-reasonable-in-Maclean’s-of-all-places variety, along with heaps of scorn from some anglophone colleagues. Chris Selley at the National Post is still subtweeting.

Anyway, having thus re-established my credentials, I’m here to tell you that Bill 62, the so-called “Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality,” is a ludicrous claptrap that the government of Philippe Couillard should withdraw before it collapses in court under the weight of its own absurdity. Here’s why.

The bill ostracizes behaviour that isn’t religious. Obviously inspired, or provoked, by the face coverings worn by a tiny number of women in Quebec who profess the Muslim faith, the bill hasn’t the guts to say, “Muslim women shouldn’t cover their face.” So it says instead that nobody may cover their face. “Personnel members of bodies must exercise their functions with their face uncovered, unless they have to cover their face, in particular because of their working conditions or because of occupational or task-related requirements,” the bill says. “Similarly, persons receiving services from such personnel members must have their face uncovered.”

This means, as we’ve seen, that if you cover your face for any reason except workplace safety, you can’t do work for the Quebec government—or receive its services—for the duration of the covering. The justice minister, Stéphanie Vallée, has said that this extends to sunglasses. Surely scarves, ski hats and beards are a no-no too. All of which is odd, because this is supposed to be about religious neutrality—it says so right there in the bill’s title—and yet no provision restricts any specifically religious behaviour or garb.

It permits all sorts of religious behaviour. Since the bill limits only face covering, it establishes no prohibition against public servants wearing crucifixes, turbans, kippehs or indeed any Muslim-associated garment short of a veil. So in seeking to establish “religious neutrality,” it forbids things that aren’t religious and has no effect on a wide range of things that are. Faut le faire, as we say.

It tells a lie about Quebec. The bill’s tiny number of supporters—almost all of whom say it is insufficient in itself but that it serves as a kind of handy limbering-up exercise for the really repressive anti-headgear measures that must follow—purport that it is valuable because it reminds everyone that state actors must refrain from identifying their religion, because “the State has no religion.”

But the State isn’t Leviathan, the aggregate total of all human activity on its behalf. In a modern democracy, the State is plural. The state isn’t colourless: it has the skin of whichever bus driver or file clerk you’re talking to at the moment. It isn’t dimensionless: it is as tall or short as the judge or cop you’re facing. It isn’t even devoid of political opinion, for its members are free to vote. And it isn’t faithless in retail, only wholesale. While the Quebec government has no established religion—never mind the crucifix over the Speaker’s chair in the National Assembly, it’s just there for dramatic irony—its employees are, of course, free to turn toward whatever deity they dread or cherish, or to ignore them all.

What they aren’t supposed to do, of course, is impose their religion on others. But that leads me to the bill’s worst outrage:

It reintroduces the coercive State. If the best (and still none too good) argument for Bill 62 is that “the State has no religion,” then it is absurdly out of bounds for the bill to dictate how the citizen must behave in her interactions with the government, on vaguely, passively-aggressively half-assed religious grounds. Even if every public servant in Quebec were made to read the collected works of Richard Dawkins, spayed or neutered, chopped or stretched to measure, issued the regulation skin tone, accent, wardrobe and whatever else were necessary to telegraph the State’s neutrality on a hundred relevant axes of faith, appearance, socio-economic status and whatnot else—even if you stipulate that the State may do that to its own emissaries, then it’s still really weird for the State to require an equivalent neutrality of the citizen.

Here we see Bill 62 dipping into the territory Richard Hofstadter described in his classic essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics: the odd propensity of groups to imitate, unconsciously, the behaviour they most despise in the opposing groups they fear or target. Hofstadter was describing anti-Communist groups in the Cold War United States, imposing the same secrecy, rigid organization and even penchant for falsification that they feared in Stalinism. But Hofstadter specified that the instinct was owned by neither the left nor the right, and that it wasn’t restricted only to Cold War contexts. The paranoid style is easy to spot in all kinds of contexts where people worry too much.

What’s wrong with Islam, after all? The Couillard government’s response comes in layers: (i) nothing, which is why the bill doesn’t name Islam; (ii) terrorism, though of course, most Muslims shun and hate terrorism, and at any rate, wearing a niqab on the bus has nothing to do with terrorism, so never mind; (iii) coercion—in this case, the belief that some women wear certain clothes because they know men who require it. Well, ain’t it the damnedest thing, then, that Bill 62 seeks to fight coercion with coercion. A singularly time-limited, bashful, unevenly applied, hypocritical coercion, but coercion all the same. Orwell said some things are so stupid only an intellectual could believe them. Similarly, some things are so reminiscent of the overweening Catholic Quebec state of the mid-20th century that only in the name of purging such authority could anyone dream them up.

The fear at the root of bills like C-62 and the substantially more odious Parti Québécois Charter of Quebec Values is that noxious ideas will spread: that the most backward and extreme interpretations of Islam will win converts simply by being permitted to exist. But that’s silly. There’s no perceptible rate of conversion to Judaism in Outremont simply because a lot of Hasidim live there. Muslims don’t make me Muslim by standing near me.

If the State has no religion, then the simplest way to express this principle—after unscrewing the crucifix from the National Assembly’s rear wall—is to forbid the active promotion of religion while on the taxpayer dime. Proselytizing, in other words. If the guy at the SAQ folds religious tracts in with your wine receipt, it’s okay for the government to say that’s a no-no. If your Jewish or Muslim doctor tries to trade a hernia operation for a conversion, that could be seen as going a step too far, and appropriately sanctioned. That all of this sounds ridiculous, because of course there is no doctor or liquor sales clerk who acts like that, is simply further evidence that there is no real problem here to solve.

The Quebec Liberal Party could have been the one to say so. But a characteristic of the Quebec Liberal Party, going back decades, is that it keeps forgetting that a “Quebec consensus” exists only to the extent that every player in the society’s elite chooses to play. On religious accommodations as on various elements of the national unity debate, if courageous leaders would simply say, “I disagree,” there would therefore be no consensus.

The Couillard government having failed to do so, it has fallen to just about every serious commentator in Quebec to point out Bill C-62’s obvious incoherence.  Many are doing it in a curious two-step: the bill is terrible, but isn’t it awful that those obtuse anglophones outside Quebec, with their worship of multiculturalism, don’t understand it. We are reminded that France has laws similar to Bill C-62. As if comparison were justification. As if any element of France’s relations between Muslims and the non-Muslim majority were worth copying. The enclaves where communities rarely mingle? The very low rate of integration?

Bill C-62 deserves criticism because it is a terrible bill. Its title doesn’t match its contents, it permits and forbids things with no logic, it would lead to a government whose actions would be less just and less coherent than they already are. I don’t associate sloppy work with any ideal of Quebec, and I’m surprised that some of the province’s politicians and commentators think anyone should.

Source: Why Quebec’s Bill 62 is an indefensible mess – Macleans.ca