Veiled Intolerance

Following regretable examples in recent years by France, Belgium, Austria, and others, and in lamentable fidelity to the abhorrent but failed Parti Québecois’ Charter of Values, this past week the Québec National Assembly passed Bill 62:


“Under the bill, personnel members of public bodies and of certain other bodies must exercise their functions with their face uncovered, unless they have to cover their face, in particular because of their working conditions or because of occupational or task-related requirements.

“In addition, persons receiving services from such personnel members must have their face uncovered. — Québec National Assembly, 41st Legislature, 1st Session, Bill 62

This law, as is so often the case with such laws, carefully avoids singling out any religion, group, or gender for special treatment.  By this guise it purports to be motivated by the purest neutrality and most benign intent.  But, dress it up however you like, it remains fundamentally rooted in bigotry.  And it remains repugnant.

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”
— Anatole France, The Red Lily, 1894

It also leads to absurdity.  Now, in Québec, you arguably cannot check out a library book, talk to the receptionist at the doctor’s office, teach, go to school, take a community college course, ride a bus, or any number of ordinary innocuous things if you wear a surgical mask in flu season, a niqab, or who knows what:  perhaps even a beard, sunglasses, or a floppy hat.

Who can I call about this? — But wait! — How can I get service by phone when nobody can ensure that the faces on both ends of the call are uncovered?  How will anyone really know with whom they’re talking?  How ever can we communicate if we can’t see each other’s face?

But, let’s face it, this is not about any of that;  it is blatant bullying of “the other,” targeted through niqabs, burqas, and such, persecuting women and minorities under the kafkaesque pretense of saving them from oppression.

There is no legitimate public purpose served here.  Barring very limited cases, such as where matching an individual’s face to photographic ID is essential, there’s no good reason for this.

Let each circumstance speak to its own need.  If a physician or dentist needs at some point that a patient´s face be uncovered in order to deliver treatment, that’s a decision for the physician or dentist to make — and the patient then can choose to accept the treatment or not, accordingly.  This works;  it always has.

Yes, it’s Québec, and far away from where I live, and the federal parliament of which I am part and the federal government itself have no jurisdiction in this matter, but encroachments on religious freedoms, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, or indeed any of our Charter rights, wherever in Canada, are the proper business of every Canadian, everywhere.

This foolish celebration of intolerance is an affront to the dignity of individuals and their freedom of choice and expression, and I fully expect it to be found unconstitutional in the end.

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