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Quebec Says That, Actually, Women Can Wear Niqabs On The Bus After All

Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée says "the law is not repressive."

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Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée says women in the province will be able to wear niqabs while riding a bus, contradicting what she said about Bill 62 just a week earlier.

Jacques Boissinot / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The controversial "religious neutrality" law, which was passed by the National Assembly last Wednesday, prohibits face coverings for anyone administering or receiving government services.

That means Muslim women who wear niqabs have to remove their veils when visiting government offices, going to the hospital, using the library, or even taking a city bus. They would have to keep their faces "uncovered during the duration of the service,” Vallée told reporters last week.

At a Tuesday morning press conference, however, Vallée backtracked from those earlier comments. People will only have to uncover their faces for identification, communication, and safety purposes. When taking a bus, a person will have to uncover their face if they're using a bus pass with photo ID, but will not have to remain uncovered for the whole bus trip, Vallée said.

Vallée apologized for any confusion over the law, which has been denounced as an attack on Muslim women by civil liberties groups. The Quebec government had planned to release guidelines for Bill 62 next summer, but that was pushed forward as a result of the backlash.

"I'm sorry that it wasn't as clear," Vallée said. "Maybe what I'm doing today I should have done the day after we adopted the bill."

She said "the law is not repressive" and noted there are no penalties for anyone who doesn't comply.

Under the law, people can ask for special "religious accommodation," but there is no way to receive a blanket exemption. Instead, a niqabi woman who wants to wear her veil, for example, would have to request an exemption from every single government department, agency, and service separately.

The law is already facing some opposition within Quebec. Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and his main rival in the municipal election, Valérie Plante, are both opposed to Bill 62.

Some members of faculty at Montreal's Concordia University have said they will refuse to enforce any of the law's provisions in the classroom, with the history department calling it an attack "against one group, Muslim women who wear face coverings." The university's president, Alan Shepard, told the Concordian student newspaper that he was "in no rush" to implement the law until there are clearer guidelines.

“So for now, it’s completely status quo — as if the law weren’t there," Shepard said.

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.

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