The Quebec government is diving deep into controversy by tabling a bill saying it will no longer tolerate face-coverings that obstruct communication or visual identification when delivering services. Premier Jean Charest held a conference where he defended the move, saying “This is a symbol of affirmation and respect. … An accommodation cannot be granted unless it respects the principle of equality between men and women, and the religious neutrality of the state.” A debate over face coverings has been raging in Europe, but has largely been swept under the rug in Canada, although Charest’s government is known for drawing lines in the sand over accommodation for minorities. Muslim leaders have questioned the need to legislate against the tiny percentage of Quebecers who wear niqabs or other face covering—estimating that there are only about 25 in the whole province—and say they feel singled out despite the legislation making no reference to specific religions.
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