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

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Barbara Kay: The Jewish blindspot to the horrors of the niqab

Interesting thought experiment regarding the Jewish equivalent of the niqab, but with Kay’s usual lack of nuance in discussing the issues and rants about cultural Marxism:

Sir Salman Rushdie spoke at Montreal’s Jewish Public Library last week. We were two of an estimated 700-strong (mostly Jewish) audience.

Rushdie’s insightful and entertaining address on “literature and politics in the modern world” was excellent, but the evening’s most noteworthy moment arrived with the Q&A, when, inevitably, his response was solicited regarding Quebec’s new Bill 62, which bans face coverings in the realm of public services. Rushdie gracefully sidestepped any comment on the law itself, but did express a robust opinion on the niqab.

His own family, Rushdie said, ranged from atheism to full Islamic practice, but “Not even the religious members would accept wearing a veil. They would say it is an instrument of oppression.” My husband and I applauded loudly, but few others did. Rushdie added, “Muslim women in the West who see it as an expression of identity are guilty of what Karl Marx called ‘false consciousness.’ A lot of women are forced to wear the veil. To choose to wear it, in my view, assists in the oppression of their sisters in those parts of the world.”

At this point I clapped even more enthusiastically and (alone) bellowed, “Bravo!” But most of the audience continued to sit on their hands. To say I was disappointed in my fellow Jews is an understatement. Here, after all, is a man who knows Islamic fundamentalism and oppression first hand, having endured 20 years of tense vigilance following fatwas against his life for the alleged crime of insulting Islam.

The tepid reaction to Rushdie’s statements thus struck me as a rebuke both to Rushdie’s personal ordeal and to the wisdom he brings to the face-covering debate as a critical insider. It’s also proof that even someone of Rushdie’s moral authority is powerless to shift liberal Jews’ reflexive instinct to identify with a perceived underdog, whatever the actual stakes at issue. I even had the sneaking suspicion that if a niqab’d woman in the audience had risen to shake her fist at Rushdie, she would have sparked an approving ovation.

I understand why young people are loath to criticize any cultural practice by the Other. They’ve long been steeped in cultural Marxism, which encourages white guilt and forbids criticism of official victim groups, including Muslims (but not Jews). But how did so many of my pre-Marxist, classically liberal Jewish contemporaries, who were, age-wise, disproportionately represented in the audience — especially the women, feminists one and all — fall for what public intellectual Phyllis Chesler calls a “faux feminism” that is “Islamically correct”?

I had assumed that my opinion on Bill 62 — that it is a fair law that privileges socially-level communications over a misogynist tribal custom — had solid, if minority, support in my community. The Rushdie evening disabused me of that illusion. Yet, I remain bewildered that Rushdie’s words don’t ring as true to my peers as they do to me. And not just Rushdie. Many Muslims are as “triggered” by the niqab as I am, and for better reason: they came to Canada to escape what it represents in those Islamic countries where it is customary (or obligatory) to wear it. They’re eager to speak up, but most media are too busy romancing the niqab-wearers to hear them.

Here’s a thought experiment I’d put to my progressive Jewish friends: How do you feel about the “frumqa”? “Frum” means religious in Yiddish. A frumqa is the Jewish burqa, worn by a few hundred Haredi women in Jerusalem who are sometimes called the “Taliban women.” The frumqa’s creator, Bruria Keren says she wears it “to save men from themselves. A man who sees a woman’s body parts is sexually aroused … Even if he doesn’t sin physically, his impure thoughts are sin in themselves.”

I’m glad the frumqa exists for one reason: I can say I find it disturbing in itself and abusive to girls without being called Islamophobic. I can freely say that Haredi fundamentalism and the obsessive gender extremism it incubates is a blot on the Jewish halachic and cultural landscape. Please don’t speak to me of a Jewish woman’s “right” to wear such a travesty of “tzniut” (modesty in dress and behaviour). Indoctrinated women, like inebriated women, are not competent to give informed consent to practices that reduce them to sexual and reproductive “things.”

I’d wager there isn’t a single Jewish woman in that Rushdie audience who wouldn’t privately express her visceral disgust with the frumqa, and who furthermore wouldn’t turn a hair if it were banned in Israel (it can’t be: the Haredim hold too much political power there). But over the Other’s burqas they draw a politically correct veil. Forgive me if I conclude it isn’t just Muslim women in the West who are guilty of false consciousness.

Source: Barbara Kay: The Jewish blindspot to the horrors of the niqab | 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

Loi 62: Vallée rendra publiques les règles d’application

I have sympathy for the public servants in charge of developing these rules, but good that the government will make them public:

La ministre de la Justice, Stéphanie Vallée, s’apprête à rendre publiques les règles d’application concernant l’échange de services publics à visage découvert, un document qui était à l’origine destiné à l’administration seulement.

Devant «l’escalade» des derniers jours, il est devenu essentiel de «bien communiquer et de bien expliquer» la nouvelle loi 62 à la population, a affirmé la procureure générale lors d’une entrevue de fond avec La Presse canadienne, dimanche.

Mme Vallée s’est dite étonnée des réactions parfois virulentes des Canadiens, à la suite de l’adoption de la loi québécoise sur la neutralité religieuse, mercredi dernier.

Elle a dit ne pas comprendre leur réaction, puisque son gouvernement avait annoncé ses couleurs depuis belle lurette, et que le débat fait rage au Québec depuis au moins 10 ans.

«Il faut repositionner la loi dans son contexte, a-t-elle déclaré, tout en lançant un appel au calme.

«C’est un principe qui fait consensus au sein des parlementaires de l’Assemblée nationale. Donc je vous avoue que l’interprétation donnée est assez particulière, parce qu’on a eu un souci tout au long du projet de loi de préserver l’équilibre et surtout de préserver les libertés individuelles», a-t-elle renchéri.

Un sondage Angus Reid, publié le 4 octobre 2017, démontre que 87 pour cent des Québécois soutiennent les objectifs de la loi 62.

La mesure législative prévoit que tous les services publics au Québec devront être donnés et reçus à visage découvert – notamment dans les transports publics et dans les hôpitaux. La loi permet toutefois des accommodements raisonnables, accordés à la pièce, et n’est pas coercitive, c’est-à-dire qu’aucune pénalité (amende, ou autre) n’y est inscrite.

Les règles d’application, qui seront publiées dès lundi ou mardi, viendront expliquer ce qu’est une prestation de services, et donc, concrètement, où, quand, et comment les gens devront se découvrir le visage.

Les lignes directrices quant aux accommodements raisonnables viendront plus tard.

Par exemple, les Gatinois ont une carte d’accès avec photo qui leur accorde une certaine tarification pour les services municipaux, a illustré la ministre.

«Lorsqu’il y a un enjeu d’identification, parce que la municipalité a fait le choix d’avoir une identification, bien il est certain qu’il sera tout à fait raisonnable de demander à la personne de s’identifier, au même titre qu’on le fait dans la loi électorale, pour s’assurer qu’il s’agit de la bonne personne qui a droit aux services publics», a-t-elle affirmé.

Le Québec trace le chemin, selon la ministre

Les premières ministres de l’Ontario et de l’Alberta ont été les premières à dénoncer la loi, cette dernière allant jusqu’à la qualifier «d’islamophobe».

«Je crois que ça va causer du tort à des femmes marginalisées et c’est très malheureux», a réagi Rachel Notley vendredi.

Le premier ministre du Canada, Justin Trudeau, leur a vite emboîté le pas, arguant qu’aucun gouvernement ne devait dire aux femmes comment s’habiller.

Si on ne veut pas que les femmes soient forcées à porter le voile intégral, peut-être ne devrions-nous pas les forcer à ne pas le porter, a-t-il raisonné alors qu’il était en tournée au Lac Saint-Jean.

Or, Mme Vallée a rappelé que l’obligation du visage découvert touche autant le voile intégral que la cagoule ou le bandana qui masquent le visage.

Elle a affirmé que si les politiciens canadiens étaient si mal à l’aise, qu’ils réagissaient si «rapidement», c’était parce qu’on était dans du «droit nouveau» et que le Québec traçait le chemin, tout comme il l’a fait avec sa loi sur l’aide médicale à mourir.

«Ce n’est pas facile de tracer la voie lorsqu’on légifère, lorsqu’on présente du droit nouveau; d’un côté comme de l’autre, on est la cible de critiques, de ceux qui considèrent qu’on va trop loin, de ceux qui considèrent qu’on ne va pas assez loin», a déclaré la ministre.

L’obligation du visage découvert n’a jamais été codifé au pays, à part en 2007, lorsque des amendements ont été apportés à la loi électorale québécoise. Le Québec pourrait donc servir de modèle, a suggéré la ministre.

Dans une lettre ouverte qu’elle a fait parvenir «à la société en général» vendredi, Stéphanie Vallée soulignait justement le «leadership» de son gouvernement, qui a osé établir des règles de vivre-ensemble, alors que la question des accommodements pour motifs religieux fait couler beaucoup d’encre ici, comme ailleurs dans le monde.

À ce stade-ci donc, pas question de reculer, selon elle. La loi 62 passera le test des tribunaux.

À M. Trudeau qui ouvre la porte à une contestation du fédéral, elle répond qu’il «serait dommage qu’on doive faire ce débat-là avec nos homologues fédéraux».

Mais s’il le fallait, le Québec «n’abdiquera pas» et défendra son droit de légiférer, ainsi que les éléments de sa loi, «bec et ongles», a-t-elle dit.

La ministre Vallée a indiqué en entrevue que le débat entourant la loi 62 était «vraiment l’illustration de la particularité de la société québécoise».

Elle ne croit toutefois pas fournir des munitions au Parti québécois, qui pourrait faire ses choux gras de cette affaire. La formation affirme déjà être «déçue» du manque de respect des Canadiens envers le Québec.

Source: Loi 62: Vallée rendra publiques les règles d’application | Caroline Plante | Politique québécoise

Banning the niqab is bigoted and sexist. Or is it? Margaret Wente

Wente plays the contrarian:

If you’re a liberal thinker, you probably know where you stand on Quebec’s controversial religious neutrality bill. You hate it. Banning women in face veils from receiving public services (such as, potentially, riding the bus) is cruel, intolerant, unworkable, discriminatory, sexist, divisive, and an attack on religious freedom. The bill has been denounced by Rachel Notley, Kathleen Wynne, human-rights lawyers, Muslim groups, and nearly every opinion writer in English-speaking Canada. “Quebec’s niqab ban is a shameful sop to nativist voters,” thundered the Toronto Star. (The Globe’s editorialists oppose it, too.)

At least a dozen countries have passed similar laws. Some of them might surprise you. Take Norway – widely hailed as one of the most tolerant nations on Earth. The Norwegian government wants to ban face veils in all schools and universities, for students and instructors alike. “Face-covering garments such as the niqab or burka do not belong in Norwegian schools,” said the acting minister of immigration and integration. “The ability to communicate is a basic value.”

Then there’s Germany, whose leader, Angela Merkel, put out the welcome mat for more than a million immigrants and refugees. But that welcome is conditional. Germany should ban face veils “wherever legally possible,” she said last year. Why? “We do not want any parallel societies, and where they exist we have to tackle them.” France has banned face coverings in public spaces since 2011. In other words, not all countries with these bans are sinkholes of bigotry and oppression.

Can you be a progressive and also favour banning the niqab? Plenty of Quebeckers think so. A whopping 87 per cent of them support the bill, and many say it doesn’t go far enough. Despite the views of the Toronto Star, not all are knuckle-dragging xenophobes from Hérouxville. Yet the English-language commentary has been downright hysterical. According to the critics, women wearing veils will be kicked off buses in the dead of winter, denied life-saving medical treatment, and essentially cut off from life. As Warda Naili told CTV, “I will be a prisoner in my own house.” (Like some of the most ardent champions of the veil, Ms. Naili is a Western convert to Islam.

Niqab bans aren’t likely to spread to the rest of Canada – at least for now. It’s a Quebec thing. It has to do with secularization, the strict separation of church and state, and the obsession with preserving Quebec’s distinct identity. If the doctrine in the rest of Canada is diversity, the doctrine of Quebec is maintaining its distinct culture at all costs. As for religious freedom, it’s worth noting that even in Canada this freedom is not absolute. (We don’t tolerate polygamy, for instance.) Religious rights always compete with others, and even the European Court of Human Rights has agreed that the requirement to show one’s face in public is not unreasonable. As Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard put it, “You speak to me, I speak to you, I see your face, you see mine. It’s part of communications. It’s a question in my mind that is not solely religious, it’s human.”

What’s notable is that the views of the English-language commentariat are out of step not only with Quebeckers but with English Canada as well. Only three in 10 Canadians across the country support the right of women to wear face coverings. Is this proof that anti-Muslim sentiment is dangerously widespread? Or does it simply mean – as I believe – that Canadians want immigrants to fit in?

To be sure, Bill 62 is fraught with politics and hypocrisy. Although it is supposedly aimed at all religions, the only people it will affect are Muslim women. Mr. Couillard would like to be re-elected next year, and this improves his chances. One suspects he wouldn’t be too distressed if the whole thing were tossed out by the courts.

For what it’s worth, my own view is that you shouldn’t pass a law unless you need it – and given the handful of veiled women in Quebec, we don’t need it. But I could be wrong. Recently I talked with Roksana Nazneen, a Muslim from Bangladesh, who describes the growing embrace of the niqab in Quebec and elsewhere as an enormously regressive trend. “It fights integration,” she says. She argues that guilt-ridden feminists just don’t get it. They do not know what the niqab means and they should not be fighting for the right of women to self-oppress. And make no mistake: “The niqab means that men should not hear your voice.”

What kind of Muslim community do we want 10 years from now, she asks? And what will be the consequence of the backlash that would almost certainly be unleashed by the spread of Muslim religious conservatism? These are among the many questions raised by Quebec’s controversial new law. Some of its opponents might be wise to ponder them.

Source: Banning the niqab is bigoted and sexist. Or is it? – The Globe and Mail

Quebec ban on face coverings a blatant violation of religious freedom: David Butt

At some point in time, the ban will be successfully challenged:

With Halloween imminent, people turn their thoughts to the good-natured duplicity of costumes. But there is a much darker duplicity afoot as well. Under the mask of pursuing “social cohesion” the Quebec legislature has passed a bill denying women the right to receive public services while wearing a veil for religious reasons. The law is a blatant violation of religious freedom guaranteed by the Charter of Rights, an exercise in oppression of a socially vulnerable minority and gender discrimination to boot. Quite a litany of legal lapses in one bill.

Our Charter protects religious freedom regardless of whether our beliefs are shared by a majority, a minority or nobody. It matters not if others think our sincere religious beliefs benign, wacky or offensive. The freedom to believe as we choose is protected nonetheless. To understand what is so wrong with this new law one must first accept, difficult as it may be, that people who hold religious beliefs we dislike intensely are just as free to hold them as we are to hold our own. Embracing diversity can be hard and challenging work.

Some religious practices can be limited by government. But the government must tread lightly. The limits must be reasonable and carefully tailored to pursue legitimate social objectives. For example, a religious belief that prohibits being photographed cannot exempt the believer from a driver’s licence photo: Driving is necessarily heavily regulated, so anyone wishing to drive must have a proper licence.

The Quebec government ban on veil-wearers receiving government services pursues no legitimate social objective and is not carefully tailored to anything. How does a Muslim woman quietly riding a public bus create any harm, or risk of harm, to the broader public good? She doesn’t. Nor is there any harm flowing from a Muslim woman using a library, visiting a hospital ER or getting a building permit from City Hall. So there is no valid objective pursued by denying these services to Muslim women who wear a veil.

Wherever photo ID is required, briefly lifting a veil to confirm identity is indeed a legitimate ask by those providing government services. But this new law goes far beyond such reasonable limits on religious freedom. The veiled woman might properly be required to lift her veil to use a photo-ID bus pass. But she should not have to keep the veil off for the entire bus ride. So the law is not carefully tailored either. It is a vastly over-reaching intrusion on freedom of religion.

If the Charter of Rights so obviously dooms this law to oblivion, why would the Quebec Legislature pass it in the first place? In fact, democracies function rather well on a certain degree of tension between legislatures and courts, which protect fundamental freedoms. Legislatures fulfill basic democratic norms by enacting laws conforming to majority views. The Quebec Legislature has done so here, where public support for the law hovers around 87 per cent. And it is for courts to do the politically unpalatable, but necessary, work of striking down bad laws that violate the minority rights of those lacking sufficient numbers for political clout. Such tension can be healthy in a vibrant democracy committed to both democratic rule and minority rights.

But the Quebec government doesn’t get off so lightly here. If we look at why people are so strongly and viscerally opposed to women wearing veils, we will see that the Quebec government is catering slavishly to the meanest urges of the voting mob, stooping to the lowest depths of democracy.

Behind much visceral opposition to veils is unwarranted fear of the unfamiliar. Veils make women perpetually unfamiliar in a shallow visual sense, and this allows the unreflective among us to wrongly build the irrational bridge from unfamiliarity to loathing. Sadly, that is what the Quebec government has encouraged. Anyone making the effort to know veil wearers will of course discover a rich humanity that whether agreeable or disagreeable, reduces wardrobe choices to near irrelevance and invisibility.

Also behind much opposition to veils is the infuriatingly persistent social tendency to tell women what their choices mean, and then impose that meaning on them. The Quebec government is paternalistically telling women that even their most thoughtful, sincere and highly individual religious choice to wear veils categorically denotes nothing more than mean-spirited rejection of the community that sustains them. And the government is then punishing these women for sending the message the government has told them they are sending. This is oppression, pure and simple.

At Halloween, the Quebec legislature has rejected treats in favour of a mean-spirited, insidious trick. Let us hope the courts will not be fooled by the legislature’s poorly crafted disguise.

Source: Quebec ban on face coverings a blatant violation of religious freedom – The Globe and Mail

‘Problematic’ and a ‘dog’s breakfast’: Quebec face-covering ban panned by authors of landmark report [Bouchard and Taylor]

Always worth listening to Bouchard and Taylor:

A new Quebec law purported to deal with secularism and the accommodation of minorities is being called a “dog’s breakfast” of contradictions by one of the authors of a landmark study of the issue.

The other author of the study says it would be “problematic” in its application by health-care and transit workers.

In their 2008 report, sociologist Gérard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor offered solutions aimed at assuaging concerns about the erosion of Quebec identity while respecting the rights of minorities.

The Liberal government’s Bill 62 on religious neutrality, passed in Quebec’s National Assembly on Wednesday, aims to address some of the recommendations laid out in their report.

However, speaking separately, both men say it misses the mark.

“It’s a bit surprising that a law that purports to be about secularism reduces it to one dimension — religious neutrality — and doesn’t explore separation of church and state, equality of religions and belief, freedom of religion,” Bouchard told Radio-Canada’s morning radio program Gravel le matin.

Bouchard pointed out that the law does not address the crucifix still hanging at the National Assembly.

Taylor had an even more scathing assessment. In an email, he called it “excessive and badly conceived, in fact, contradictory.”

The bill represents Quebec’s latest attempt to address the question of religious neutrality.

The separation of church and state is viewed as a central pillar of Quebec society, but successive governments have struggled to implement guidelines on what this should look like on a daily basis — with neutrality and secularism running up against religious freedom.

How will law be applied?

Bill 62 extends to municipal services, meaning Muslim women who wear a niqab or burka wouldn’t be able to take out a book from the library, visit the doctor or take the bus or Metro.

The guidelines on how the law should be enforced won’t be ready until next summer. The law also provides for exceptions to be made on religious grounds, though exactly how that would work is unclear.

All this makes the law’s application “problematic,” Bouchard said.

“A woman with a covered face who presents herself at the hospital emergency room, we’re not going to send her home if it’s life-threatening,” he said.

“Another scenario, the bus stops in winter and it’s –30 C, and the woman with a niqab is there with her two small children. Will the driver leave her on the curb?”

The union representing workers at Montreal’s public transit authority, the STM, has already said its members don’t want that responsibility, while civil rights advocates say the law infringes on freedoms enshrined under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In an email, Taylor pointed out that the province justified the law for safety, communication and identification reasons.

But, he said, none of those are at stake when someone takes a bus or is treated by a doctor in hospital.

“It’s a dog’s breakfast,” Taylor said.

Source: ‘Problematic’ and a ‘dog’s breakfast’: Quebec face-covering ban panned by authors of landmark report – Montreal – CBC News