Home Page Election 2019 News Opinion Foreign Policy Politics Policy Legislation Lobbying Hill Life & People Hill Climbers Heard On The Hill Calendar Archives Classifieds
Hill Times Events Inside Ottawa Directory Hill Times Store Hill Times Careers The Wire Report The Lobby Monitor Parliament Now
Subscribe Free Trial Reuse & Permissions Advertising
Log In
Legislation

Not even sunglasses are spared in Quebec bill

By Chantal HÉbert      

For a province to declare war on sunglasses is pretty unique in the history of Canada. For a government to do so in the name of the separation of church and state is even more remarkable.

If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wanted to be proactive in the festering debate over reasonable accommodation, he would seek the advice of the Supreme Court of Canada, pictured, on achieving a Charter-friendly balance between the rights of religious minorities and the values of a secular society, writes Chantal Hébert of Quebec's Bill 62. The Hill Times file photo
Share a story
The story link will be added automatically.

Somewhere in the Quebec government’s legal department, a team of lawyers is bracing to argue in court in what may be the not-too-distant future that the wearing of dark sunglasses puts the safety of the province’s public transit system at risk. Ditto presumably in the case of local libraries and city parks.

For a province to declare war on sunglasses is pretty unique in the history of Canada. For a government to do so in the name of the separation of church and state is even more remarkable.

And yet according to Quebec’s Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée, the sunglasses ban is part of Bill 62, the just-adopted law that requires Quebecers to uncover their faces to provide or receive provincial and municipal services.

Vallée’s contention is that critics who describe the law as a discriminatory attack on the fundamental rights of the minority of Muslim women who wear the face-covering niqabs and/or burkas have it wrong.

One can understand why so many would have come to that conclusion given that the bill’s title is: “An act to foster adherence to state religious neutrality and, in particular, to provide a framework for requests for accommodations on religious grounds in certain bodies.”

Notwithstanding the bill’s label, Vallée’s says that under her law someone sporting dark sunglasses would be treated in the same way as a woman wearing a face-covering veil.

Both would have to remove them for the duration of a transit ride or, in the minister’s own words, for “as long as the service is being rendered.”

Vallée’s comments mostly illustrate the lengths to which Premier Philippe Couillard’s Liberal government has to go to claim that it has, if not a public policy rationale, at least a legal footing for its dubious bill.

Unless some smaller Quebec town wants to wage war on face-covering snow apparel, Bill 62 may not be tested in real life anytime soon.

Muslim women who veil their faces are hard to come by anywhere in Quebec, but in particular outside Montreal. Denis Coderre and Valérie Plante—the two main candidates vying for the mayoralty of the province’s metropolis in next month’s municipal election—have both vouched to disregard the new law.

The union that represents the city’s employees is also set to give its prescriptions a pass. There are no penal sanctions for those who fail to apply Bill 62.

Indeed, there are those who believe Couillard’s plan was to fend off charges that his government is failing to address the religious accommodation issue with a bill that is neither applicable nor legally viable.

What the new law will not do is end Quebec’s decade-long travails on the front of the accommodation of religious minorities.

It may not even be on the books long enough to be thrown out by the courts on constitutional grounds. That’s because it could be replaced by a more restrictive but not necessarily more constitutional law on religious wear sooner rather than later.

If elected to government next fall, either of Quebec’s main opposition parties would replace the Liberal ban on face-coverings with a wider one that would prohibit judges, crown attorneys, prison guards and police officers from wearing religious garments at work.

The Coalition Avenir Québec—whom the latest of polls cast as the ruling Liberals’ main election rival—would add elementary and secondary school teachers to the list of those on whom it would impose a secular dress code.

The niqab flare-up in the 2015 election, the more recent backlash over M103, the federal Liberal motion dealing with Islamophobia, the floating of a values test on would-be immigrants at the time of the federal Conservative leadership campaign have demonstrated that the debate over the accommodation of religious minorities is not limited to Quebec.

On Friday, a tweet by Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown suggesting that, absent a federal intervention, the province should support a Charter-based court challenge of the Quebec law prompted a load of pro-Bill 62 responses from followers purporting to be Ontario voters.

Two decades ago, the federal government sought guidance from the Supreme Court on the divisive matter of Quebec secession. If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wanted to be proactive in the festering debate over reasonable accommodation, he would seek the advice of Canada’s top court on achieving a Charter-friendly balance between the rights of religious minorities and the values of a secular society.

Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer for The Toronto Star. This column was released on Oct. 21.

The Hill Times

Politics This Morning

Get the latest news from The Hill Times

Politics This Morning


Your email has been added. An email has been sent to your address, please click the link inside of it to confirm your subscription.

McKenna wins re-election in Ottawa Centre, trumpets voters’ support for climate fight

News|By Neil Moss
'I’m so relieved,' Catherine McKenna said, about continuing with the Liberal climate change plan.

Election 2019 was a ‘campaign of fear,’ say pollsters

'There may well be a message to this to the main parties, that slagging each other will only take you so far,' says Greg Lyle.

Election 2019 campaign one of the most ‘uninspiring, disheartening, and dirtiest’ in 40 years, says Savoie

News|By Abbas Rana
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says she has never seen an election where mudslinging overwhelmingly dominated the campaign, leaving little or no time for policy discussion.

Strategic voting to determine if Liberals will form government, say political players

News|By Abbas Rana
As many as nine per cent of progressive voters could vote strategically in this close election potentially affecting the outcome in more than 100 ridings, says Innovative Research president Greg Lyle.

Turkish offensive should pressure feds to act on repatriation of Canadian citizens in Kurdish-controlled ISIS detention camps, says expert

News|By Neil Moss
The issue of repatriation will be less politically fraught after the election, says expert.

Business tops experience among 2019 candidates, one-third have run for office before

Here’s an analysis of the record 1,700-plus candidates running for the six major parties this election.

Pod save us all: the growing role of political podcasts in election 2019

News|By Mike Lapointe
The Hill Times spoke with some podcast hosts taking a deeper dive into the political nitty-gritty, within a medium that only continues to grow in popularity.

No-shows from Conservative candidate could hurt party’s chances in tight Kanata-Carleton race, say politicos

News|By Palak Mangat
The Conservative's candidate, Justin McCaffrey, has skipped two events, including a debate on the environment, intended to feature all candidates.

For whom will the bell toll in Peterborough-Kawartha?

In a riding where voters are deeply engaged in the political process, candidates avoid the low-hanging fruit and stay out of the mud as they grapple with who to send to the House of Commons.
Your group subscription includes premium access to Politics This Morning briefing.