Montreal Opposes Law That Forces Muslim Women To Remove Burqas


David Krayden Ottawa Bureau Chief
Font Size:

The mayor of sanctuary city Montreal doesn’t want to enforce a provincial law that would force Muslim women to uncover their faces if they want access to pubic services.

Mayor Denis Coderre, who continues to welcome thousands of illegal refugees into his city every week, said Friday the Quebec legislation will force even bus drivers in Montral to become “burqa police.”

The municipal-provincial spat is just the latest between the liberal and comopolitan metropolis and the rest of a province that is increasingly insistent that immigrants adapt to the majority culture.

Bill 62 was introduced by the Liberal provincial government and merely dictates that both government clerks dispensing government services and those receiving them cannot cover their face. It says nothing about Muslim women or the the wearing of the burqa.

The legislation was only supposed to relate to areas of provincial jurisdiction but Quebec’s justice minister decided to expand the law to cover municipal services and even those operating public transit.

Coderre, a former federal immigration minister in the Liberal government of Jean Chretien, proclaimed Montreal a sanctuary city in February, just as asylum seekers began to pour across the Quebec border from New York. On Friday he rejected the province’s order that municipal authorities will enforce the law, suggesting it would be difficult if not impossible to do so.

“Are we going to say to the driver, ‘I’ve become the burqa or niqab police, and I’ll decide who gets on the bus or not?'” Coderre asked at a news conference at Montreal city hall. “And if the driver says you can come in, will we have citizens who take the law into their own hands?”

But Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said there could be no municipal exceptions to the law.

“This law will apply throughout Quebec,” he said to reporters on Friday. “We can’t allow Quebec’s biggest city, its metropolis, not be part of the same landscape.”

Before the “quite revolution” of the the mid-1960s, Quebec politics and the lives of its people were heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic Church. It has since rejected every form of pubic religious expression including elements of Muslim culture that many in the province view as inconsistent with the secular image of Quebec.

“For us it’s a matter of expressing principles,” Couillard said. “It’s not a matter of dictating to people in Montreal how to dress. We’re just talking about a clear and simple principle: having an uncovered face to give and receive public services, for reasons of communications, identification and safety.”

Follow David on Twitter