TORONTO – Wading into the debate on Quebec’s burqa ban, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stressed values of religious freedoms, adding that governments should not tell women what to wear.
“I will always stand up for Canadians’ rights,” Trudeau said in Alma, Que, The Canadian Press reported on Saturday, October 21.
“I will always stand up for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is what Canadians expect of me.
“As I’ve said a number of times as well, I don’t think it should be the government’s business to tell a woman what she should or shouldn’t be wearing.”
The legislation, known as Bill 62, effectively bans public servants and those who receive public services from wearing a face covering, including Muslim women who wear the niqab (face veil).
The ban will be in force across municipal services, such as public transit.
“We know there is going to be many weeks and many months of discussions on this, on what the implications are,” Trudeau said as he campaigned ahead of a federal byelection Monday.
“And as a federal government, we are going to take our responsibilities seriously and look carefully at what the implications are.”
Asked if that means challenging the law in court, Trudeau replied, “this means looking carefully at the implications of this law and how we continue to stand up for Canadians’ rights.”
A day earlier, Trudeau asserted it is not up to the federal government to challenge its constitutionality.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
As for the face veil, the majority of Muslim scholars believe that a woman is not obliged to cover her face or hands.
Scholars, however, believe that it is up to women to decide whether to take on the veil.
A few hours after the bill was approved, a group Montrealers lined up on Friday morning by a downtown bus station wearing surgical masks, Halloween disguises, and face-covering bandanas in a protest against the law.
Organizer Kathryn Jezer-Morton said the goal was to show solidarity with women who wouldn’t be able to ride buses or use other services in light of the law.
“To not allow women who wear a niqab to access public services is so harmful, and a violation of their human rights,” she told The Canadian Press in a phone interview.
“To think that you’re doing them any kind of favor in the name of feminism, for one thing, is preposterous.”
More criticism of the law emerged Friday, with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley saying the ban doesn’t make sense and “smacks of Islamophobia.”
“The passage of that bill is a sad day for Canada,” Notley said in Calgary after receiving an award from Equal Voice, a national organization dedicated to electing more women in Canada.
“I think that it is damaging for marginalized women and it’s very unfortunate. The only way it holds together logically is if you’re in some way trying to move forward with some element of Islamophobia and that’s not who we are as Canadians.”
On Thursday, the law was also unanimously condemned in the Ontario legislature, with Premier Kathleen Wynne calling religious freedom “part of our identity.”
“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,” she said.