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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Quebec clarifies niqab ban as criticism grows

The new law has been met by protests amid concerns it targets Muslims

A woman wearing a niqab as she walks in a street in the center of Roubaix, northern France. France was one of the first countries to ban face veils (AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN)
A woman wearing a niqab as she walks in a street in the center of Roubaix, northern France. France was one of the first countries to ban face veils (AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN)

Quebec’s government has sought to clarify its new controversial law that bans people wearing face coverings from giving or receiving public services, amid an outpouring of criticism from across Canada.

The legislation was passed last week, and although it did not specify which face coverings are prohibited, the debate focused largely on the niqab worn by some Muslim women.

Public-sector employees such as teachers, police officers, hospital and daycare workers could all be affected by the new law.

On Tuesday, Quebec’s justice minister Stéphanie Vallée attempted to explain who the law would affect and how it would be enforced.

At a news conference that lasted more than an hour, Vallée said the law will only apply in certain cases - when required for communication, identification or security reasons. She insisted that it would not limit access to emergency services, and said it was not intended to be “repressive”.

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Quebec bans niqabs for those receiving public services

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"I'm sorry that it wasn't as clear," she said. "Maybe what I'm doing today I should have done the day after we adopted the bill."

“No one will be thrown off public transit, denied emergency healthcare or be chased out of a public library,” Vallée said. “We do not have the intention of setting up an uncovered-face police.”

Vallée said ensuring accurate identification was a key reason for the new legislation.

She outlined various scenarios in which people would have to uncover their faces, for instance, in order to register at a hospital or medical clinic, or when asking questions of library staff. However, they could leave their veils on when sitting in the waiting room or when browsing bookshelves.

“These are common-sense rules,” Vallée told reporters in Quebec City.

The comments come amid ongoing outrage at the law, including from human rights advocates and Muslim groups.

Nicole Filion, coordinator of the Ligue des droits et libertés, a human-rights defence group, warned that the law will “have a discriminatory effect on religious groups who are targeted, in particular women”.

The country’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, said last week that his government would look into the legislation.

“I don’t think it’s the government’s business to tell a woman what she should or shouldn’t be wearing,” he told reporters. “As a federal government, we are going to take our responsibility seriously and look carefully at what the implications are.”