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Quebec Enacts ‘Religious Neutrality Law’ To Curb Full-Face Veils In Public

Quebec has approved a law that would require citizens of the Canadian province to uncover their faces while giving or receiving any public service — a rule critics say is aimed at Muslim women who wear the niqab or burqa.

The Associated Press writes: "The new law has two basic components: It bans the wearing of face coverings for people giving or receiving a service from the state and it offers a framework outlining how authorities should grant accommodation requests based on religious beliefs. While the bill doesn't specifically mention specific clothing, it would prohibit the burqa and niqab when people interact with the state, but it doesn't extend to other religious symbols."

Under the so-called religious neutrality law, the restrictions would extend to public workers, such as doctors, teachers and daycare workers, according to the CBC.

The niqab is a face covering worn by some Muslim women, while the burqa is an all-encompassing garment worn by others that covers them from head to toe.

The CBC writes:

"Initially, the bill was only to apply to provincial public-sector services and provincially funded institutions, including universities and schools. In August, Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée proposed amendments that make the legislation apply to municipalities, metropolitan communities and public transit organizations. That means, according to the justice minister, anyone who rides a bus or the Metro must be unveiled. On Monday, Vallée told CBC Montreal's Daybreak that a woman who normally wears a burka or niqab would have to show her face for the duration of her ride — 'as long as the service is being rendered.'"

The Quebec bill, which was first proposed seven years ago, is similar but somewhat less restrictive than one that went into effect in France in 2011, prohibiting such garments to be worn anywhere in public.

A ban (on the niqab) was imposed in Syria in 2010 and earlier this year, the European Court of Human Rights upheld a Belgian law that is similar to the French law. In May, Austria enacted a ban. There are other similar laws in the Netherlands and Bulgaria. Germany and Norway are considering their own 'full veil' bans.

The AP says: "Quebec's two main opposition parties opposed the bill because they argued it didn't go far enough in restricting the presence of conspicuous symbols of all religions in the public sphere."

However, Jagmeet Singh the leader of the New Democratic Party, or NDP, says he is "completely opposed" to the new law.

"I am completely confident in the existing protections that are in place in Quebec that will protect human rights," Singh was quoted earlier this week as saying by the CBC.

Singh, who is a member of Canada's minority Sikh community, added that he believes the law violates human rights. "Fundamentally, we can't have the state telling people what to wear, what not to wear."

Quebec's Premier Philippe Couillard said he expect that the law will be challenged.

"The principle to which I think a vast majority of Canadians by the way, not only Quebecers, would agree upon is that public services should be given and received with an open face," Couillard was quoted by the AP as saying. "I speak to you, you speak to me. I see your face. You see mine. As simple as that."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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