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Quebec Set to Vote on Burqa Ban

QUEBEC – A new proposed law banning face-veil in Canada’s Quebec district is stirring waves of criticism from rights groups, which slammed the legislation as “Islamophobic and anti-Muslim”.

“This is nothing new, there is certainly offensive deja vu that we have seen this debate for 10 years in Quebec, and more broadly in Canada” Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) told Al Jazeera.

The bill, which is expected to be voted on as early as Tuesday, would require all government employees and any individual receiving a public service to show their face, prohibiting all garments that cover the face.

Bill 62 was first introduced in 2015, but did not create momentum in parliament.

In August, liberal Minister of Justice Stephanie Vallee proposed amendments to the bill at the National Assembly.

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Vallee said that the proposed legislation “establishes the neutrality of the Quebec government and its institutions” with the objectives of ensuring effective communication, necessary identification and security.

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Experts and rights organizations have called the bill “racist”, “Islamophobic”, and “discriminatory”, asserting that it is an “invented a solution for a made-up problem”.

According to studies conducted by NCCM, the majority of Muslim women in Canada do not cover their faces.

However, Gardee said the NCCM has “observed a significant rise and increase in anti-Muslim sentiment and islamophobia” throughout Canada.

He added the rhetoric by Quebec’s government only “serves to vilify, marginalize, and stigmatize a segment of the Muslim community”, referring to a sharp increase in hate crimes against Muslims recently.

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The bill, dubbed as the “Burqa Ban”, does include a clause that allows individuals to request an exemption for religious reasons.

Yet, many criticized it as being unclear how the process for such exemptions would be analyzed and implemented.

“The onus is on the state to justify the constitutionality of the legislation, the onus should not be on members of society to go begging the government for an accommodation under a racist law” Shane Martinez, a social justice and human rights lawyer, said.

Martínez, who believes the bill will pass, called it “sad and ironic” and said it “serves to play off of nationalism and exploit ignorance for the sake of political gains, mirroring what’s happening south of the border in the US and a throwback to what happened in France seven years ago” when the European country banned the face veil.

He added that the bill and its clauses are “blatant violations of Quebec and Canadian Human Rights and Freedom Charters” and will “most likely be defeated in court”.