Stop tiptoeing around Quebec’s veil ban, feds

There are so many third rails in Canadian politics — issues so explosive that parties will tie themselves in knots to avoid them, or else choose to punt them to the courts.

Same sex rights, abortion and private health care top the list, to which — thanks to Quebec’s Bill 62 — we can now add niqabs and burkas. One can almost hear all three major federal parties quaking in their collective shoes as they approach the next election with this law hovering like a giant sword of Damocles over their heads.

Quebec’s proposed Bill 62 would ban the wearing of face coverings when dealing with the state, whether you are boarding public transit, visiting a medical clinic, or getting your driver’s licence. By using the language of security, identification and communication, the bill throws all face coverings — whether ski masks, niqabs, or sunglasses — into one box.

As alibis go, it’s pretty thin. People have been boarding buses in Montreal in minus 40 weather with their faces wrapped in scarves for decades. Nobody ever considered it a security issue before, for an excellent reason: It wasn’t one, and isn’t one now.

Bill 62 isn’t about security or the sanctity of the ‘secular state’. It came about because some Muslim women cover their face for religious reasons — even though there’s nothing in the Koran that mandates that women cover their faces to show devotion to their faith. This is what inspired Bill 62, and this is what the debate should be about — whether our politicians want it to be or not.

Religion can mandate many practices, and every society chooses which ones it embraces, tolerates, or opposes, based on its beliefs, laws and customs — and in Canada’s case, the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Charter. Those rights include freedom of expression, equality and freedom of religion. These rights have clashed innumerable times in court, in cases involving the banning of teachers from classrooms due to their sexual orientation (Vriend v. Alberta), the signing of codes of conduct by students which ban same-sex relationships (Trinity Western University vs. the Law Society of Upper Canada (and British Columbia) and polygamy (Bountiful vs. B.C.).

In two of these three cases (Trinity Western is to be heard this fall by the Supreme Court), equality rights took precedence over religious freedoms, regardless of what practices the people and institutions involved believed to be important to their faith. Some of Winston Blackmore’s daughters supported his polygamist marriages; that did not matter to the courts. “I have concluded that this case is essentially about harm,” wrote Chief Justice Robert Baumann of the B.C. Supreme Court. “More specifically, Parliament’s reasoned apprehension of harm arising out of the practice of polygamy. This includes harm to women, to children, to society and to the institution of monogamous marriage.”

Read the full article on iPolitics.

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