back to top

Quebec's "Religious Neutrality" Law Is Facing A Constitutional Challenge

The plaintiffs say the law is an unconstitutional violation of Muslim women's religious freedoms.

Posted on

A Quebec woman and two prominent civil liberties groups have launched a legal challenge against Quebec's "religious neutrality" law on the grounds that it infringes on the rights of Muslim women who cover their faces.

The new law — described as "an Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality" — requires anyone giving or receiving government services to do so with their faces uncovered. "This requirement directly infringes the freedom of religion of individuals, such as Muslim women, who cover their faces as a religious practice," reads the application calling for portions of the law to be declared unconstitutional. "These violations cannot be justified in Quebec's free and democratic society."The lawsuit was filed Tuesday by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, and Marie-Michelle Lacoste, who converted to Islam in 2003 and now goes by the name Warda Naili. The lawsuit also names Fatima Ahmad, a McGill University student. Both women say in affidavits that they have seen an increase in harassment since passage of the law.
Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

The new law — described as "an Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality" — requires anyone giving or receiving government services to do so with their faces uncovered.

"This requirement directly infringes the freedom of religion of individuals, such as Muslim women, who cover their faces as a religious practice," reads the application calling for portions of the law to be declared unconstitutional.

"These violations cannot be justified in Quebec's free and democratic society."

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, and Marie-Michelle Lacoste, who converted to Islam in 2003 and now goes by the name Warda Naili. The lawsuit also names Fatima Ahmad, a McGill University student. Both women say in affidavits that they have seen an increase in harassment since passage of the law.

“I live in fear," Naili said at a Tuesday press conference about the lawsuit. "I am always scared because I don’t know what will happen when I go out.”

Naili said she felt "abandoned" by the Liberal government, which defeated the Parti Quebecois in the last election after a divisive debate over the proposed Charter of Values. That legislative attempt also focused attention on niqabi women in the province, although it's estimated that fewer than 100 women in Quebec wear the veil. She said the government was now sending a message to anti-Muslim Quebeckers that their views are justified. "It’s OK. You are right to think this way," she said the government was telling people.
CBC News

Naili said she felt "abandoned" by the Liberal government, which defeated the Parti Quebecois in the last election after a divisive debate over the proposed Charter of Values. That legislative attempt also focused attention on niqabi women in the province, although it's estimated that fewer than 100 women in Quebec wear the veil.

She said the government was now sending a message to anti-Muslim Quebeckers that their views are justified. "It’s OK. You are right to think this way," she said the government was telling people.

Quebec's Liberal government says it will defend the law in court.

Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée told reporters that Bill 62, as the law is more popularly known, does not infringe on the rights and freedoms guaranteed under both Quebec and Canadian laws. “It’s a law that is justified in a free and democratic society like Quebec. It’s a law adopted using the powers that are those of the government of Quebec," she said, according to the Montreal Gazette. "Yes, we will defend the bill.”
Jacques Boissinot / The Canadian Press

Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée told reporters that Bill 62, as the law is more popularly known, does not infringe on the rights and freedoms guaranteed under both Quebec and Canadian laws.

“It’s a law that is justified in a free and democratic society like Quebec. It’s a law adopted using the powers that are those of the government of Quebec," she said, according to the Montreal Gazette.

"Yes, we will defend the bill.”

Ishmael N. Daro is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto. PGP fingerprint: 5A1D 9099 3497 DA4B

Contact Ishmael N. Daro at ishmael.daro@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.