New Quebec law tells Muslims: Uncover your face

By Jonathan Montpetit, THE CANADIAN PRESS

Should niqab-wearers be forced to remove the veil?

MONTREAL — Muslim women will be forced to uncover their faces if they want services from the Quebec government, according to landmark legislation tabled Wednesday in the province.

In tabling the bill, Quebec delves into sensitive territory where governments in Canada have largely avoided treading: setting hard-and-fast rules for accommodating minorities.

The bill says people obtaining — or delivering — services at places like the health- or auto-insurance boards will need to do so with their faces in plain view.

Face-coverings won’t be tolerated if they hinder communication or visual identification.

Premier Jean Charest characterized the legislation as a defence of two valued principles, gender equality and secular public institutions.

“This is a symbol of affirmation and respect — first of all, for ourselves, and also for those to whom we open our arms,” Charest told a news conference in Quebec City.

“This is not about making our home less welcoming, but about stressing the values that unite us. . .

“An accommodation cannot be granted unless it respects the principle of equality between men and women, and the religious neutrality of the state.”

While the debate over such identity issues has raged in Europe for years, and played out around countless dinner tables and Internet chat boards in this country, Canadian politicians have been reluctant to weigh in.

Quebec is an exception to that rule.