QUEBEC – In light of the escalating debate surrounding Quebec’s religious neutrality bill, the government will publish the rules on how it will be applied, the province’s justice minister said Sunday.
Stephanie Vallee said the decision to publish the document, which was originally intended only for administrators, was made in order to fully inform the public on the controversial legislation.
In a lengthy interview with The Canadian Press, Vallee said she was stunned by the intense reaction to Bill 62, which requires anyone giving or receiving state services to do so with an uncovered face.
Opponents have called the bill an attack on Muslim women, and municipal politicians have said it’s unfair to ask bus drivers or library workers to decide who gets services.
The premiers of Alberta and Ontario have denounced the bill and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said governments shouldn’t tell women what they can and can’t wear.
On Sunday, Vallee called for calm and stressed the need to “reposition the law in its context.”
She noted that most members of Quebec’s legislature agree with the principle behind the bill.
“I must admit that the interpretation we’ve heard is quite particular, because we were concerned throughout the bill with preserving balance and especially preserving individual freedoms,” she said.
An Angus Reid poll published in early October showed that 87 per cent of Quebecers support the bill’s objectives.
Vallee says she’ll publish the rules this week that will explain exactly when, where and how people will have to show their faces when using services, which include public transportation or hospitals.
The bill does, however, allow reasonable accommodations on a case-by-base basis and is not coercive, meaning there are no penalties or fines attached to it.
Vallee said the guidelines for these accommodations will be published later.
She denied the accusation that the law targets Muslim women who wear face veils, noting it applies equally to hoods or bandanas that cover the face.
She suggested that part of the intense debate surrounding the law is because Quebec is trailblazing onto new legislative territory, as it did when it passed medically-assisted dying legislation.
“It’s not easy to carve a path when legislating, when presenting new law,” she said.
“On one side and on the other we get criticism, both from those who say we’re going too far and those who consider that we’re not going far enough.”
Trudeau would not answer directly when asked earlier this week if the federal government would challenge the law.
But if it comes down to a constitutional challenge, Vallee said Quebec is prepared to fight “tooth and nail” to defend both the elements of the law and the province’s right to legislate.