Nothing is simple in Quebec politics. But it’s hard to see the recent ban on face coverings as anything but a cynical political move by the governing Liberals. For starters, where is the evidence that any such prohibition was necessary or urgent? Were the small number of women wearing burkas or niqabs causing havoc while returning library books or boarding buses in Montreal?
While the courts can sometimes be unpredictable, no serious observer thinks Bill 62 will survive a constitutional challenge. So why bother? Well, for one thing, there’s an election in one year and Philippe Couillard’s government needs a placeholder on identity politics, something that’s sufficiently xenophobic to hold the Parti Quebecois at bay.
Unfortunately, it’s not as innocuous as the typical symbolic political move. The consequences felt by Muslims will be real. And for all the arguments that the banning of religious garb is a defence of women’s rights, laws like this don’t empower women. They simply put them in the middle of a battle between men and the government. The law won’t survive, but some of the damage from Bill 62 will continue.