Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights strongly condemns the passing of Bill 62 in Quebec and stands in solidarity with the Muslim community and with all religious and cultural minorities targeted by this legislation and all other policies impeding religious expression, bodily autonomy and choice.
Bill 62 bans provincial workers such as doctors, nurses, teachers and daycare workers from wearing a niqab, burka or any other face covering while delivering services. People would also be required to uncover their faces while receiving those services. Initially, the bill was only to apply to provincial public-sector services and provincially funded institutions but later amendments will see the legislation apply to municipal services, including public transit and subsidized housing offices. This will severely impact some people’s ability to use public services and occupy public spaces, most harshly Muslim women.
While this legislation claims to be promoting the neutrality of the state and is often done in the name of liberating women, this type of political maneuver is steeped in and fuels racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, and anti-migrant sentiments. In no way does it promote more harmony in our larger society, instead it provides legitimacy to all forms of racist and Islamophobic violence, the consequences of which will be felt by the most marginalized among us.
This legislation would be the first of its kind in North America and therefore sets a dangerous legal precedent. In Europe, in the wake of the Brexit vote, racist and Islamophobic attacks spiked in the United Kingdom. Nationally, hate crimes significantly rose with hate crimes against Muslim women seeing the most dramatic increase. Instances of headscarves being ripped off have become a common occurrence, severely jeopardizing the safety of women in public. Already those effects were felt in Quebec. Every time the debate over the wearing of religious symbols heats up, Quebec sees a spike in incidents of verbal and physical abuse toward Muslim women wearing the hijab head covering in public.
All people have the right to live free from violence, discrimination and coercion. Forcing people, especially women, who wear religious wear to disrobe in the name of neutrality, safety, ‘vivre ensemble’, or liberating women not only infringes on choice and bodily autonomy but is also a serious form of violence.
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights supports the rights of all people everywhere to have full agency and bodily autonomy regarding all matters related to their sexuality, reproduction and gender. It is our organizational mission to advance and uphold sexual and reproductive health and rights in Canada and globally. As such, we are committed to an intersectional, anti-racist feminism rooted in human rights and stand in staunch opposition on this type of legislation and the principles behind it.