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TORONTO (RNS) The Canadian province of Quebec has introduced unprecedented legislation that would effectively bar Muslim women from receiving or delivering public services while wearing a niqab, or face-covering veil.
“Two words: Uncovered face,” Quebec Premier Jean Charest told reporters during a press conference in Quebec City on Wednesday (March 24). “The principle is clear.”
According to the draft law, Muslim women’s faces would have to be visible in all publicly funded locations, including government offices, schools, hospitals and daycare centers. Fully veiled women in the niqab or burqa, for example, would not be able to consult a doctor in a hospital or attend classes at public schools or a university.
Public servants may continue to wear religious symbols like a cross, Star of David, turban, skullcap or even a head scarf so long as a person’s face is in full view. The niqab would be banned even for bureaucrats who do not interact with the public.
Charest said the bill was needed to protect identity, security and communication. Montreal Muslim leaders say niqab-wearing women are a tiny minority — perhaps as few as 25.
Shama Naz of Montreal told the Toronto Star that since the law targets Muslims, it is “hypocrisy. A lot of Muslims will think it’s racially oriented. Everybody else goes on wearing whatever they want to express themselves.”
The bill was partly motivated by some high-profile cases in which women were denied services unless they showed their faces. Just this month, a Muslim woman was ejected from a French language class for refusing to uncover her face. She has filed a complaint with Quebec’s human rights commission, charging religious discrimination.
The province will hold public hearings on the draft legislation but it is widely expected to pass.
By Ron Csillag
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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