Marie-Michelle Lacoste, who now goes by Warda Naili after converting to Islam, speaks to the media at a news conference in Montreal. A Quebec judge has temporarily stayed a key provision of the controversial law banning people from receiving or giving a public service with their face covered. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Judge strikes down section of Quebec law that bans face-coverings

MONTREAL — A Superior Court justice on Friday ordered a temporary stay on the provision of a controversial Quebec law that prohibits citizens from receiving or giving public services with their faces covered.

Justice Babak Barin ruled that Quebec cannot force people to uncover their faces until the province establishes clear guidelines under which someone can apply for a religious accommodation.

Bill 62 was passed in October and was criticized for targeting Muslim women because they are among the few people in society who wear face veils.

Section 10 of the law forces everyone to show their face when receiving or giving a public service and section 11 allows citizens to be exempted from that rule if they are granted an accommodation for religious reasons.

But section 11 is not yet in force. The government gave itself until next summer to establish the guidelines for religious accommodation requests.

Quebec’s law was challenged by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

They argued section 10 of the Act violates the right to freedom of religion and to equality and requested it be put on hold pending a final ruling by the court on whether or not it is unconstitutional.

Barin granted a temporary stay only — until the government creates guidelines for religious accommodations.

The judge suggested the law is neither complete nor fully coherent.

“It is not unreasonable to expect that a state religious neutrality law enacted by the government should apply in a well-thought-out and comprehensive manner, especially when the law in question has been in preparation for some time,” he wrote in his ruling.

“In the interim, noble as the ideology of state religious neutrality may be, the government must ensure that the law it is adopting for the public good is coherent and complete.”

The lawyer representing the applicants, Catherine McKenzie, said her clients would have preferred a total stay, but added they are “happy.”

“I understand the position of the court,” McKenzie said in an interview. The temporary stay “is certainly an alternative we discussed with the judge during the hearing a few weeks ago. We understand entirely why the judge took this decision and we are happy.”

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said he is “not unsatisfied at all” with the judgement.

“What the judge is asking us to do is to publish the criteria for accommodating religious requests — which is something we were going to do anyway.

“There is no mention in the ruling that the law contravenes the Charter or has any major constitutional issues.”

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