LEAF opposes the Québec government’s “Religious Neutrality” Bill, Bill 62

The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) opposes the Québec government’s “Religious Neutrality” Bill, Bill 62, which the Québec legislature passed today.

The Bill:

  1. Establishes a duty of neutrality for all state personnel;
  2. Requires personnel members to exercise their functions with their faces uncovered;
  3. Makes it mandatory to have one’s face uncovered when receiving a state service.

This requires that one’s face must be uncovered to work in any public service position and to receive public services such as health care, childcare, and public transportation. Just as LEAF opposed the 2013 proposed “Québec Charter of Values”, LEAF opposes Bill 62 because it will disproportionately target women, and in particular, Muslim women.

LEAF asserts that this Bill is divisive, discriminatory, and will serve to further entrench inequality along gender, race, and ethnic lines. The Bill intentionally excludes niqab-wearing women from public employment and denies them access to fundamentally important social services such as healthcare and childcare. This will exacerbate the inequality already experienced by Muslim women due to violence, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia.

This Bill denies niqab-wearing women access to employment in the public service, an area of the workforce in which they may be most likely to find employment. They will also be denied state services. Again, this explicitly and directly targets women, who we know experience higher rates of poverty and are therefore more likely to utilize public services such as public transportation and social services. Finally, women are particularly impacted by the requirement that an individual must show their face in order to access daycare. Women continue to be the primary care givers in many families, and therefore have a disproportionate need for childcare services. Feminists have long pointed out the relationship between women’s equality, access to the workforce, and access to childcare.

LEAF is particularly troubled by the Bill’s inclusion of educational services, including elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education, which will deny niqab-wearing women and girls access to education. It is widely recognized in Canada and internationally that women and girls’ access to education is integral to gender equality and the alleviation of gendered poverty. LEAF is particularly concerned about this regressive move to deny Muslim women the right to learn.

The Bill’s provisions ostensibly providing for accommodation are unduly onerous and may be used to justify denying accommodations to niqab-wearing women. It is unreasonable to require niqab-wearing women to engage in a lengthy accommodation request process, by which a personnel member will evaluate whether she has cooperated with seeking a solution, and will take into account whether the accommodation is consistent with nebulous concepts such as “state neutrality”, every time she wants to take a bus, enter a library or see a doctor. The practical outcome of this Bill is very likely to make basic state services entirely unavailable to niqab -wearing women.

As with the proposed Charter of Values, LEAF suggests that if the government really wants to address inequality between men and women, it should tackle the structural barriers to women’s equality, such as those related to housing, employment, child and elder care, violence, health, poverty and discrimination on the basis of marital status. How can restricting women’s participation in public life and access to public services increase access to equal rights?

LEAF encourages the Québec government to repeal Bill 62 and to focus instead on ameliorating the existing significant and real barriers that impede the achievement of substantive equality for all women.

LEAF is committed to challenging all forms of discrimination against women through legal action, public education, and law reform under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For more information, visit our website: www.leaf.ca