Quebec’s National Assembly is currently debating Bill 62, “An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality,” which would prohibit any person with their face covered from working in the public sector or receiving public services, including medical care in public hospitals and clinics. The bill is framed as protecting the government’s ‘religious neutrality,’ but is clearly yet another instance of the rhetoric of secularism disguising discriminatory legislation, in this instance targeting Muslim women who wear the niqab. The Liberals’ vocal opposition to the infamous “Quebec Charter of Values” – which proposed to prohibit public sector employees from wearing “conspicuous religious symbols” – helped them rise to power, yet they are now proposing a measure which is also clearly Islamophobic and racist. Bill 62 must not pass, and we should call it what it is: a bill that targets Muslim women and validates Islamophobic sentiments in Canada and Quebec.
Bill 62 is part of Quebec’s ongoing resistance to ‘reasonable accommodation,’ a legal principle which mandates that adjustments be made to institutions and businesses to accommodate individuals with a proven need. While originally intended for people with disabilities, the term has since come to encompass a wide scope of accommodations, including religious ones. Businesses and services are exempt only if they can prove that providing accommodations will cause them undue financial hardship. The Quebec government has the ability to accommodate people who cover their faces at little to no extra cost; its refusal to do so demonstrates deeply entrenched xenophobia and a continuation of forced assimilation.
Bill 62 is just the provincial government’s latest attempt to have all its residents conform to the dominant white Catholic culture in Quebec. In 2007, the town of Hérouxville created of a “code of conduct” for potential new immigrants, which stated that “the lifestyle that [immigrants] left behind in their birth country cannot be brought here.” More recently, in May 2016, Outremont’s borough council banned the construction of new places of worship on certain main streets in the neighborhood. While not specifying any religious community in particular, the ban was effectively an attack on Outremont’s substantial Hasidic Jewish population.
Legislation that drastically restricts the ability of religious minorities to express their faith is not only unjustifiable, but furthers intolerance and discrimination toward communities that already face these issues. Incidents of Islamophobia – particularly those targeting women – spiked dramatically in the wake of France’s ban on veils which cover the face. Just this year, when several French cities banned burkinis, footage of Muslim women being publicly humiliated for their religious expression went viral.
As white supremacy becomes more explicit and mainstream, the last thing we need is more toxic legislation targeting religious minorities. We call on the Quebec government to oppose Bill 62, and to take measures to protect religious minorities and other communities experiencing heightened violence and prejudice at this time. We must stand with Muslim women, who will be directly impacted by this bill, and with all those facing institutionalized discrimination.