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Canada: Quebec’s Government Introduces Bill to Deny Public Services to Women Wearing the Veil

(May 21, 2010) On March 24, 2010, Quebec's Minister of Justice introduced a bill to create an Act to Establish Guidelines Governing Accommodation Requests Within the Administration and Certain Institutions. Although the bill does not specifically mention the practice, it is widely understood to be aimed at the wearing of a niqab, a scarf that covers all of a woman's head except her eyes, by women working for or seeking services from the government or certain public institutions. The institutions specifically mentioned are schools, health and social service providers, and child-care centers. The bill declares that it seeks to promote gender and religious equality in the province by recognizing that the showing of an uncovered face is a “general practice” and that the government is not required to make reasonable accommodations for women who wish to deviate from this practice if it has “security, communications, or identification” reasons for declining to do so. (Bill n° 94: An Act to Establish Guidelines Governing Accommodation Requests Within the Administration and Certain Institutions, 39th Leg., al”>
(last visited May 18, 2010).)

The tabling of Bill 94 in the National Assembly follows a number of controversies in the province arising out of cases in which a woman was wearing a niqab. In one of these cases, a woman was expelled from a French language course for refusing to uncover her face. (Kevin Dougherty, Quebec Lifts the Face Veil, CALGARY HERALD, Mar. 25, 2010, available at

Bill 94 has itself generated considerable controversy in the province. Most of Quebec's newspapers and magazines and many of its sizable immigrant groups have been sharply critical of the proposed legislation. Quebec's largest English language newspaper has stated that “[t]he law could be interpreted differently by various government departments.” (Don MacPherson, Quebec's Niqab Bill Is Unclear, Sloppy, and Poorly Written, THE GAZETTE (Montreal), Apr. 4, 2010, available at

However, polls show that 95% of Quebeckers and 75% of other Canadians support the bill. Premier Jean Charest has indicated that moderate Muslim groups have also expressed their support. At the federal level, the leaders of both the ruling Conservatives and their main rivals, the Liberals, have stated that the bill was reasonable, and on the provincial front, the ruling Liberal's main rival, the Parti Québécois, has also expressed some support for requiring women seeking public services to uncover their faces. (Martin Patriquin & Charlie Gillis, About Face, MACLEANS.CA, Apr. 7, 2010, available at