Uncover faces in Quebec

The Quebec national assembly passed a controversial religious neutrality bill Wednesday that will oblige citizens to uncover their faces while giving and receiving state services, triggering criticism the law targets Muslim women.

Quebec's two main opposition parties opposed the bill because they argued it didn't go far enough in restricting the presence of conspicuous religious symbols in the public sphere.

Tabled by Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee in 2015, Bill 62 is the governing Liberals' attempt to enshrine into law what is considered to be a fundamental Quebec value that the state should not promote religion of any kind.

It follows up on an election promise in 2014 to address the issue after the Parti Quebecois' own controversial secularism legislation — the so-called charter of values — died after the party was swept out of power that year.

The new law has two basic components: it bans the wearing of face coverings for people giving or receiving a service from the state and it offers a framework outlining how authorities should grant accommodation requests based on religious beliefs.

While the Liberal bill doesn't specifically mention the garb, it would prohibit the burka and niqab when people interact with the state, but it doesn't extend to other religious symbols as the PQ's charter did.

Premier Philippe Couillard said he expects some people to challenge the law, but he defended the legislation as necessary for reasons related to communication, identification and security.

"The principle to which I think a vast majority of Canadians by the way, not only Quebecers, would agree upon is that public services should be given and received with an open face," he said.

"I speak to you, you speak to me. I see your face. You see mine. As simple as that."

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