Controversial new law bans facial coverings in public

A masked protestor during a 2015 Reclaim Australia rally. Source: Getty Images

The Canadian province of Quebec may have made history by passing a law that bans face-coverings on any citizen in certain situations. Philippe Couillard, the premier of Quebec, is trying to pass the move off as a way for reciprocal social interaction to continue, but many people are unconvinced and believe that the ban is unfairly targeting Muslim women who wear the niqab or burqa. 

According to The Guardian, when the original draft of the law was introduced two years ago, it was “meant to ban face coverings for those offering or receiving services from government departments and provincially funded institutions, such as universities”. However, over the past two years the law has included more and more services. Municipalities, school boards, public health services and transit authorities are now on the list of banned places to wear a face covering. 

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This means that, unless they unveil, Muslim women in Quebec may not be able to use the city’s public transport system. 

“We are just saying that for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety, public services should be given and received with an open face,” Couillard said. “We are in a free and democratic society. You speak to me, I should see your face, and you should see mine. It’s as simple as that.” 

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According to a 2016 survey, as little as three per cent of Muslim women in Canada may be affected by this new law as others do not cover their faces with religious dress. However, government officials have said that it’s not an attempt to target this small demographic; masked protestors would also be required to show their faces. 

“We are not legislating on clothing. Public services have to be offered and received with the face uncovered for security, identification and communication purposes,” Stéphanie Vallée, Quebec’s justice minister, said of the change. 

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In Australia, banks, shops, offices and other places that provide customer service, can require customers to remove face coverings as a condition of entry. This includes motorcycle helmets and, if the customer refuses, they may be refused service. 

One Nation senator Pauline Hanson has repeatedly called for a ban on the burqa in public, even going so far as to appear in a burqa during a session of parliament in protest. 

What do you think of Quebec’s ban on facial coverings? Would it work here in Australia?