Nothing Neutral About Quebec’s Bill 62

Quebec’s “religious neutrality” Bill 62 has passed the Quebec legislature and will come into effect immediately, although there are no specific guidelines for those who will have to enforce or administer said law, which, strangely enough, has neither penalties nor fines attached to it.

Critics see the bill as a ban on the burka and the niqab and accuse the Liberal government of Premier Phillip Couillard of lacking the courage to use either word in the bill. As Paul Wells so deftly puts it in Macleans, the government “hasn’t the guts to say ‘Muslim women shouldn’t cover their faces.’”

The vote on Bill 62 in the National Assembly was close (66-51), with the Parti Quebecois voting against it because it “didn’t go far enough” while Quebec Solidaire opposed it for its “absurdity.” But an Angus Reid poll (albeit not a large one) indicates that 87% of Quebeckers approve of the bill and six in 10 “strongly support it.” Such a result makes one wonder how Quebec citizens, many of whom would have strongly supported Quebec’s “Quiet Revolution,” the ’60s movement that ended the overweening influence of the Catholic Church on every aspect of their lives, should seek to exert a similar influence in the name of “secularism.”

The ban on the niqab actually calls to mind the Catholic Church’s old rule that women “cover their heads” while attending Mass — although that head covering often verged on the ridiculous, given that women wanting to drop into church for a “visit” would use whatever was at hand as a cover, including Kleenex!


Perhaps it would be good to set out a few scenarios in which the “absurdity” of the bill shines through.

So, it’s Halloween, as it soon will be, and children in a Quebec neighborhood are attending a costume party at the local library, their faces covered by masks depicting everything from clowns to witches to Donald Trump to Premier Couillard. One masked child attempts to check out a book. Imagine the conversation (in French or English) as a police officer approaches the desk:

Hey kid, what do you think you’re doing covering your face with that mask? Haven’t you heard of our new religious neutrality law? You’re going to have to uncover your face or I’ll have to charge you with uh, well with something.

The officer then turns to the librarian:

Hey Madame, I’ll have to take that book. You’re giving a book to a kid whose face is covered with a mask. Not only that, it’s a devil mask which makes it a religious symbol, so sorry, hand it over. Mon Dieu, I may have to charge you, too…Could I have one of those chocolate bars while I check with headquarters?

By Alexandre Normand (Octomoose (October 2014)) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

(Photo by Alexandre Normand (Octomoose), October 2014, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s say it’s a nice day in June of 2018 and a mother and small girl, perhaps a 7-year-old, are standing at a bus stop. The child is wearing a white dress and a veil and the mother is wearing sunglasses. Up zips a police cruiser and out steps a policewoman:

Policewoman: So what’s with the getup?

Mother: We’re going to church. My daughter is making her first communion.

Policewoman: So that’s a religious outfit, especially the veil. And what about your sunglasses? You’ll have to take those off if you’re boarding a public bus.

Mother: But these are prescription glasses. I can’t see without them.

Policewoman: Sorry, they have to come off. If not, I’ll have to confiscate both your daughter’s outfit and your glasses. It’s our new religious neutrality law.

Mother: But her veil is on her head.

Policewoman: Yes, but when the wind blew I noticed that it hid her face, so it has to come off. Désolé.


A small nun, wearing the habit of her order, toddles into a hospital in, let’s say, Shawinigan, where’s she volunteered for 30 years. As she approaches the front desk, a woman says in a loud voice:

You’re breaking the law wearing that religious habit in a hospital! I’m going to call the police or I might even make a citizen’s arrest.

And as others have pointed out, what about cold winter days anywhere in Quebec when people are boarding buses with their faces and heads covered to keep from freezing? Against the law!


All kidding aside, could any of the above scenarios happen if Bill 62 is enforced to the letter of the law? Wells points out that bill forbids face-covering “but says nothing about public servants wearing religious symbols such as crucifixes, turbans, kippehs or any Muslim-associated garment short of a veil.” The bill forbids “things that aren’t religious and has no effect on a wide range of things that are.” What’s also been pointed out, of course, is the crucifix that hangs in the National Assembly in Quebec City, defended as a part of the province’s cultural past, rather than for its obvious religious significance.

Dressed for winter. (photo by Lisa Baumert

Dressed for winter. (Photo by Lisa Baumert)

It seems to be Bill 62 targets niqab-wearing Muslim women, and perhaps them alone. Andre Lamoureux, a political scientist and spokesman for the Quebec-Based Movement for Secularism who testified during the legislative hearings into Bill 62, called the niqab “a political symbol of the enslavement and de-empowerment of women, supported by the most repressive regimes on the planet.” But the fact that he views the niqab as a “political symbol” rather than a religious one is very interesting, considering the wording of the law.

Eve Torres, spokeswoman for the National Council of Canadian Women, sees it as a Charter issue: “the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms allows women to express their way of interpreting their religion.” Torres insists that “this law does not add anything to the advancement of women in society.” A survey, by the way, shows that 0.7% of women in Quebec wear face coverings. I recall when the last uproar over face-coverings was underway in Quebec and an older gentleman in a very rural area of the province was interviewed on television. He sat on his front porch in his rocking chair watching the world go by (or at least whatever small part of it passed by his door) and said that he totally approved of such a ban. I remember wondering if he had actually ever seen a woman wearing a veil.

Women who wear the niqab must surely feel they are being victimized and discriminated against by Bill 62. We’ve seen instances where such women have been subject to verbal and even physical abuse, told they “don’t belong here.” As Warda Naili, a Quebec woman who converted to Islam and wears a niqab told CTV, the bill could make her “a prisoner in [her] own house.”

Meanwhile, Quebec’s Justice Minister, Stéphanie Vallée, plows ahead, somewhat surprised, apparently, at the amount of push-back to her bill, including that from the union representing Montreal Bus and Subway employees, which has said its members are “not interested in enforcing the law,” or becoming “fashion police.”

Vallée released guidelines (in French) on Tuesday, specifying that a woman wearing a niqab would have to remove it when she got on the bus but, contrary to some interpretations of Bill 62, could then replace it until she reached her destination. In a library, said lady could roam the building wearing her veil, but would have to remove it if she spoke to an employee. The guidelines cover other situations as well, like daycare pickups and visits to social services offices, but as Desi Arnez would say, Vallée still has a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.




Dolores Campbell


Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.




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