Hate crimes against Muslims living in Canada escalated by 253% from 2012 to 2015, Statistics Canada found.
New legislation passed in Quebec could see a further increase in these numbers. The Canadian province has banned face coverings in public areas, affecting workers in government spaces and people using government-owned or operated facilities, from transport and health services to libraries and universities. Those who wear a burqa or niqab for religious purposes will be forced to unveil outside of their own home.
Government officials backing the new law claimed it was necessary in order to maintain the safety of Quebec citizens. “For reasons linked to communication, identification and safety, public services should be given and received with an open face,” premier of Quebec Philippe Couillard said. “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,” The Guardian reports.
Quebec’s justice minister Stéphanie Vallée defended the decision. “As long as the service is being rendered, the face should be uncovered,” she said. “We are not legislating on clothing. Public services have to be offered and received with the face uncovered for security, identification and communication purposes.”
The announcement of the ban has caused an outcry from Quebec citizens who view it as discriminatory. “We can’t divorce this bill from the larger context in which it falls,” said Ihsaan Gardee of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. “It seems like a made-up solution to an invented problem,” he added. “We don’t have a big issue right now with hordes of Muslim women in niqab trying to work in the public service or accessing public services with difficulty.”
Gardee and many others feel the new law is another way to marginalise a population that is already discriminated against, especially in the case of Muslim women. Gardee said his organisation and other like it would consider protesting the legislation. “We are of that opinion that the state has no business in the wardrobe of the nations,” he said. “The state should not be coercing women to undress or dress in any particular fashion.”
Defending the law, Vallée pointed out that people could apply for exemptions in some cases. “I know people would have liked us to go further,” she said. “Others think we are going too far. I think a balance has been found.”
The local government will now work with government institutes to clarify guidelines regarding the implementation of the new laws.