By Ashifa Kassam
A bitter debate over identity, religion and tolerance has resumed in the Canadian province of Quebec, as parliamentary hearings begin on proposed legislation that would ban anyone wearing a face covering from receiving public services in the province.
The bill, tabled by the provincial Liberals last year, aims to address the issue of state neutrality and provide a framework for religious accommodation requests.
But much of the public discussion of the bill has focused on its attempt to ban face coverings. The provincial government has said there are no public employees in the province who cover their faces, meaning the legislation is likely directed at Muslim women who wear the niqab or burqa.
The government has presented it as an issue of public safety. “We are not legislating on clothing,” Stéphanie Vallée, the province’s justice minister, said last year. “Public services have to be offered and received with the face uncovered for security, identification and communication purposes.”
She has since said she’s not sure how many people in the province have sought out a public service while wearing a face covering. “There are some, but I don’t have the numbers,” she said.
The parliamentary hearings began on Tuesday and will continue until early November. Some 50 groups, from daycares to immigrant support groups, are expected to take part.
The bill is the third attempt by authorities in Quebec to legislate secularism in the public domain since 2010. A previous attempt by the Liberals – which died on the order paper in 2012 – aimed to address public concerns that could become ripe terrain for some of the province’s opposition parties.
Click here to read the rest of the article Quebec Burka Debate