Removal of niqab, burka violates religious freedoms, plaintiffs argue.
A Canadian Muslim group and a civil liberties association on Tuesday filed a challenge to a law in Quebec province that forbids face-covering by those who wish to access or provide public services.
The law represents “blatant and unjustified violations of freedom of religion”, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said in the filing in Quebec Superior Court.
They argue the new face-covering law takes direct aim at Muslims who wear a niqab or burka and runs contrary to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Both charters ban discrimination based on personal characteristics, including religion or creed.
At a news conference Tuesday in Montreal, Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the NCCM, said the law is discriminatory.
“Our legal challenge targets the heart of what this law really is: a discriminatory, unconstitutional and unnecessary piece of legislation that excludes and stigmatizes an already marginalized and vulnerable minority of women and, by extension, the larger Quebec Muslim community,” he said.
Under the law, public servants such as teachers and nurses are forbidden to wear any face covering while providing services.
Anyone who wishes to access public service, such as a student boarding a bus who wants a student fare, must uncover her face for identification purposes.
The Quebec government passed the law last month, reasoning it was to separate the state and religion, as well as allowing proper communication, identification and security in public services.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told Anadolu Agency her department is aware of the legal challenge and that the government does not want to dictate how Canadians should dress.
“We have been following the progress of Bill 62 and appreciate the importance of the issues it raises,” she said. “As the Prime Minister [Justin Trudeau] has said, we do not believe that the government should be telling people what they can and cannot wear.
“As Attorney General of Canada, I am committed to upholding the rights of all Canadians under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,”
The law was widely criticized, including by the Quebec association of municipalities, Montreal mayor-elect Valerie Plante and the premiers of Ontario and Alberta.
Two Quebec Muslim women were also included in the court filing.
Fatima Ahmad, 21, said she now avoids the bus in Montreal because she is afraid she will be asked to remove her niqab, compromising her religious beliefs.
At the news conference, Marie-Michelle Lacoste, who uses the name Warda Naili since she converted to Islam and adopted the niqab, said she has been “living in fear” the new law would stoke anti-Muslim feelings.
Quebec Minister of Justice Stephanie Vallee told reporters she believes the law will stand up to the legal challenge.