I’ve been loosely following the story of Quebec’s so-called “Religious Neutrality” Bill 62, which recently passed and which prohibits full face coverings in the context of receiving a variety of government services. Text of the bill may be found on the Quebec Assembly Nationale website in PDF form.

Relevant text from the bill:

DIVISION II

SERVICES WITH FACE UNCOVERED

9. […] Similarly, persons receiving services from such personnel members must have their face uncovered…

Division III deals with criteria for determining religious accomodations to above, with references to section 10 of the Charter of human rights and freedoms of Quebec.

From the Charter, items 3 through 5 seem relevant:

3. Every person is the possessor of the fundamental freedoms, including freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.

4. Every person has a right to the safeguard of his dignity, honour and reputation.

5. Every person has a right to respect for his private life.

Freedom of religion, right to safeguard of dignity, respect for private life. Also relevant, from a discrimination perspective:

CHAPTER I.1
RIGHT TO EQUAL RECOGNITION AND EXERCISE OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS

10. Every person has a right to full and equal recognition and exercise of his human rights and freedoms, without distinction, exclusion or preference based on race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap.

Discrimination exists where such a distinction, exclusion or preference has the effect of nullifying or impairing such right.

I’m not a lawyer, but I would break this down like so:

  • The Charter grants religious freedom, and safeguards dignity and privacy.
  • The covering of the face specifically targeted in Bill 62 is exclusively religious in nature.
  • The Charter expressly prohibits limitation of the full and equal recognition and exercise of one’s rights and freedoms on the basis of religion.
  • Were there many other common cases where individuals seek government services with faces covered, there might be a stronger argument to be made that Bill 62 does not have the effect of targeting people based on their religion, and preventing them from exercising their religious rights.

It will be interesting to see how this bill is challenged in the courts.