“I don’t think it’s the government’s business to tell a woman what she should or shouldn’t be wearing.”
Last week, Canada became one of the latest countries to prohibit the wearing of full-face coverings in public.
The law, which was only passed in Quebec, means those wearing the niqab or burqa must unveil when riding public transport or offering and receiving government services in the province.
It’s expected to affect school teachers, hospital workers and police officers among others, though the law change does not specifically mention the Islamic veils.
However the legislation has one particular critic in Canada’s own prime minister, Justin Trudeau.
The politician and Liberal party leader spoke out in favour of freedom of choice when quizzed on the law change, which is believed to be the first of its kind in North America.
“I don’t think it’s the government’s business to tell a woman what she should or shouldn’t be wearing,” the prime minister told reporters, according to The Guardian.
“As a federal government, we are going to take our responsibility seriously and look carefully at what the implications are.”
“The federal government has an obligation to accept the fact that the provinces have a right to pass their own legislation, but as you know full well, as a Liberal, at the federal level, I believe fundamentally in rights, in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and I will always defend that.
“It’s not up to the federal government to challenge this, but we will certainly be looking at how this will unfold with full respect for the national assembly.”
The law is set to come into force in the mainly French-speaking province on July 1 2018, and is believed to effectively bar public workers from wearing the Islamic coverings.
“We are just saying that for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety, public services should be given and received with an open face,” Quebec premier Philippe Couillard said last week.
“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.”
Following criticism that the legislation targeted Muslim women in particular, the province has said it will work with municipalities, schools and public daycares to establish clear guidelines about what the new law will mean.
“No one will be thrown off public transit, denied emergency healthcare or be chased out of a public library,” Quebec’s justice minister, Stéphanie Vallée, told reporters this week. “We do not have the intention of setting up an uncovered-face police.”
Quebec has followed in the footsteps of several countries, including France, Belgium and Austria, which have prohibited the wearing of full-face veils.
France was the first European country to ban the burqa – a clampdown on students in state-run schools began in 2004, and the law came into full effect in April 2011. Anyone caught wearing the burqa or niqab is fined €150 (Dhs749).
However Belgium, which introduced a similar ban shortly after France, goes even further – anyone caught wearing the veil risks being jailed for up to seven days and fined €1,378 (Dhs5,685).
Earlier this year, the European Union’s top court ruled that employers are allowed to ban the “visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign”, including the hijab.