QUEBEC CITY, Quebec (Reuters) – Quebec will ban face coverings for people giving or receiving provincial government services under a law passed on Wednesday that rights groups have criticized as marginalizing Muslim women in the mainly French-speaking Canadian province.
While the law, which takes effect by July 1, 2018, does not specify which face coverings are prohibited, the debate has largely focused on the niqab worn by some Muslim women, which covers everything but the eyes.
People affected by the law would include public-sector employees such as teachers, police officers, hospital and daycare workers. Like France, which passed a ban on veils, crosses and other religious symbols in schools in 2004, Quebec has struggled to reconcile its secular identity with a growing Muslim population, many of them North African emigrants.
“We are just saying that for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety, public services should be given and received with an open face,” Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard told reporters in the province’s National Assembly.
“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,” he said.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims said it was deeply concerned by the law’s passage and was looking at its legal options.