Law that restricts covered faces being challenged in court
Published Tuesday, November 7, 2017 11:28AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, November 7, 2017 7:23PM EST
A legal challenge to Quebec's legislation banning face coverings has been filed.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association are challenging Bill 62 as a violation of the constitution.
The Muslim woman challenging the lawsuit, Marie-Michelle Lacoste, argues that the law which is supposed to provide a level playing field for religious neutrality, actually creates a difficult burden for those who wish to abide by the tenets of their religion.
Her lawyers are asking for the courts to block Section 10 of the law regarding religious neutrality, saying that the requirement to uncover her face to receive public services such as healthcare or public transit almost exclusively affects the few dozen Muslim women in Quebec who wear a veil over their faces.
The groups say as a result, the law which supposedly enforces religious neutrality actually forces women with religious beliefs to violate those beliefs.
Plaintiff Warda Naili said since Bill 62, life has been difficult.
“I live in fear. I'm always scared because I don’t know what will happen when I go out. I don't know how people will react to this law,” she said.
Ihsaan Gardee of the NCCM said the law is clearly aimed at Muslim women.
"Our legal challenge targets the heart of what this law really is: a discriminatory, unconstitutional and unnecessary piece of legislation that excludes and stigmatizes an already marginalized and vulnerable minority of women and, by extension, the larger Quebec Muslim community," he said. “Muslim women who wear the niqab as part of their religious beliefs have a constitutional right to do so, and its' not up to you or me or the government to pass judgment on what is appropriate religious practice.”
"We believe Quebecers don't support discrimination and prejudice, which is what Bill 62 codifies into law," he added.
In late October the Justice Ministry published guidelines stating that covered faces are permitted in parks and on the streets, but people must show their faces when interacting with government employees.
The team of lawyers fight the law says forcing women to uncover their faces to receive public services is not the way to achieve state religious neutrality.
“It's actually, we think achieving the opposite result, because it's making public service officials think about the religion of the people who are in front of them, when they are not supposed to be thinking about that at all,” said lawyer Catherine McKenzie.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association decided to back the suit.
“To impose these kinds of restrictions on individuals with really no evidence with a need to do so, is exactly the kind of fight that we have been having for decades,” said the CCLA’s Faith Zwibel.
Premier Philippe Couillard said he was certain the law would withstand a legal challenge.
"We deliberately wrote a bill that respects the charters, and we're very confident," said Couillard.
Naili said removing her veil in a crowd would be humiliating, adding that the law sends a terrible message.
“If they already have negative thoughts about Muslim women, the law tells them, it's okay, you are right to think this way, you are right to harass them,” she said.
The first court date is set for Wednesday, where the plaintiffs hope to stay part of Bill 62.