A new amendment to Quebec’s religious neutrality law is a cause for concern in Montreal, with both city officials and citizens worried the changes could result in some pretty racist and prejudice behaviour.
Bill 62, otherwise known as an “act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality,” stipulates that any public service can only be accessed by someone with a ““visage découvert.” Same goes for government workers offering the service.
Individuals wearing a niqab or burka can be potentially turned away from government services under this bill.
What’s worrisome is that the new amendment, proposed this past Tuesday by Quebec’s Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée, would extend religious neutrality laws to cities and transit organizations.
Montreal and the STM would need to follow these rules.
The amendment was agreed upon unanimously, says Le Devoir.
But Montreal’s mayor is taking a firm stance against the extended powers of Bill 62, fearing discrimination against immigrants.
“The city of Montreal, like all municipalities, is autonomous in regards to the governance of its employees” said Coderre on Wednesday.
"When someone with a niqab arrives with their children, are we going to tell them, 'You aren't entering into the bus or we're not giving you services?" added Coderre.
Montrealers are already worried about how the amendments may affect their daily life.
Warda Naili, who wears a niqab and spoke to CBC, says Bill 62 could make it difficult for Muslim women to access basic municipal services, like getting on a bus.
Since the a bus is in public and the expansion of Bill 62 would include the STM, Naili worries she may be forced to remove her niqab just to be able to take the bus.
Naili also said the expansion of Bill 62 is really just the Liberal government adding to existing anti-immigrant and xenophobic sentiments in the province.
When asked about whether or not people could be turned away from transportation services due to their religious attire, Vallée said the bill would apply to public transit, but added that the law wouldn’t deny people access to services.
That sounds a little contradictory and problematic.
If the expansion of Bill 62 includes public transit, who’s to say a bus driver won’t force a rider to take off a piece of face-covering religious attire simply because they know they can?
No one is being denied a service if the rider does remove their apparel, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a completely embarrassing and degrading experience.
The Quebec Justice Minister was also pretty firm that all municipalities will need to follow the rules outlined in Bill 62, even Montreal. If specific cases come up that need to be decided upon, the government will deal with those when they happen, to paraphrase Vallée.
Tabled back in 2015, Bill 62 isn’t the law quite yet. Still, it’s worrisome how the Quebec government plans to impose laws which could directly impact the religious freedoms of citizens in Montreal.
Most of Quebec probably doesn't care too much about the expansion of Bill 62, but it's definitely a source of concern in Montreal, one of the few places in the province with a diverse immigrant population.
Feels like we’re back in 2013 with the Parti Québécois’s Quebec Charter of Values.