Ontario politicians took the unusual step Thursday of using time in the legislature to unanimously condemn a law passed by Quebec that bans anyone from giving or receiving public services with their face covered.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said Ontario and Quebec have a very close working relationship, but on this issue they fundamentally disagree.
“Religious freedom is part of our identity,” she said. “Forcing people to show their faces when they ride the bus, banning women from wearing a niqab when they pick up a book from the library will only divide us.”
The legislation will disproportionately affect women, including those who are sometimes already at the margins, and push them into further isolation, Wynne said.
“We have and will continue to grapple with the tough questions that come with diversity,” she said. “It’s not always easy, but that’s what makes it important. If we believe that difference is actually our strength, then we do the work to understand each other and not just tolerate each other but love each other because of our differences.”
Quebec’s Bill 62 bans the wearing of face coverings for people giving or receiving a service from the state and it offers a framework outlining how authorities should grant accommodation requests based on religious beliefs.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has defended the law by saying it is necessary for reasons related to communication, identification and security.
Ontario NDP women’s issues critic Peggy Sattler disputed those justifications.
“Despite the guise of religious neutrality, Quebec’s legislation appears to be targeted primarily to Muslim women wearing the niqab or burka,” she said. “This bill has nothing to do with secularism or public safety, which is why it is overwhelmingly not supported by municipalities in Quebec and likely unenforceable.”
Progressive Conservative Lisa MacLeod called on the Ontario Liberal government to participate as interveners in any charter challenge to the legislation.
“The expression of freedom is never strengthened when we try to limit it in others,” she said. “All Canadians have a legal right to their religious beliefs, including in the province of Quebec.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said it’s not Ottawa’s role to challenge the Quebec law, but noted that he believes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to everyone.