Quebec Niqab ban part suspended by Canadian judge
A Canadian judge has stayed parts of a controversial Quebec law banning full-face veils in public spaces in a victory for civil liberties groups that had mounted a court challenge.
Judge Babak Barin suspended the part of the act banning face coverings for anyone working in or accessing public services, on the grounds that it was unconsitutional and discriminated against Muslims.
The judge has asked for the government to enact guidelines for how the law will be applied and how exemptions might be granted.
Quebec’s government passed Bill 62 in October, arguing that it was designed to address public safety and was religiously neutral because masked protesters would also be affected.
“We are just saying that for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety, public services should be given and received with an open face,” Philippe Couillard, the premier of Quebec, told Reuters in October.
“We are in a free and democratic society. You speak to me, I should see your face, and you should see mine. It’s as simple as that.”
Critics have said that the law unfairly targets the minority of Muslim women in Quebec who wear the niqab and the burqa, full-face veils. Some have suggested that such Muslims would be unable to access public services such as transport systems, health services or public libraries.
The court challenge against the bill was filed by a coalition of Muslim and civil rights advocates, and Warda Naili, a Quebec woman who converted to Islam and wears a niqab.
The judge “recognised the immediate harm the law was causing to the people it affects outweighed any theoretical public purpose of the law,” lawyer Catherine McKenzie, who represents Naili, told Reuters.
In October, Naili told MEE that she had already been abused for wearing the niqab in public and that the bill made her feel like a second-class citizen.
“It’s already difficult what we’re living. We’re already living [through] threats and insults. Now this will increase the aggressiveness” of members of the public who are against the niqab in general, she said.
The National Council for Canadian Muslims welcomed the ruling “as a successful first step,” its executive director Ihsaan Gardee said.
Quebec’s Liberal government is defending the law in court, saying it does not discriminate against Muslim women and is necessary for reasons of security, identification and communication. The act’s name refers to “religious neutrality” and “accommodations on religious grounds”.
“I’m not unsatisfied with the judgment because there’s no mention that the law contravenes the charters [of rights],” Couillard tolld reporters on Friday, as quoted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.