In Canada, the province of Québec wants to pass Bill 94 to exclude niqabi women from essential government services, public employment, educational opportunities, and health care. They hope that this will make niqabi women uncover themselves.
Dana Olwan writes:
Bill 94 is borne out of a masculine logic that projects men as guardians of women’s independence and free will, rendering women dependents in constant need of state protection. As residents and citizens in need of state protection, we are to believe in the magnanimity of the writers and supporters of the bill. We are told that Bill 94 does not target one group or another but that it affirms the secular nature of Quebec in particular and Canada in general. To more readily absorb this historical and political distortion, we are reminded of the tyranny of religion and blinded to the dangers of staunch secularism.
But what is missing from these truncated narratives and accounts is the frightening exploitation of the democratic process and the irreverence for human rights and human lives at the heart of Bill 94. As we cheer Canada on for its brave and moral stance, we understand only the value of not allowing this group to publicly demonstrate its religious beliefs. But we also become oblivious to the state’s siphoning of rights and absconding of obligations to religious minorities in Canada.
The authors of Bill 94 state that their legislation safeguards “public security, communication, and identification.” To do so, section 6 of the bill makes a “general practice” of having public service users and providers “show their face during the delivery of services.” Public security, the bill implies, rests on recognizable and acceptable forms of communication. These include establishing eye contact and ascertaining certain physical characteristics in a manner that does not create constraints on public employees and services.
Laden with ableist rhetoric, Bill 94 renders sight as prerequisite for communication and identification. But what of blind, deaf, and disabled people in Canada? How does the state interact with citizens and residents who do not communicate via traditional forms of communication which privilege the senses of sight, hearing, and touch? Can disabled residents and citizens adequately represent the interests of the state? If the answer to the last question is yes, then why do we accept the state’s discriminatory stance against women who wear face coverings? Traditionally, Canada has developed means of accommodating difference. Bill 94 intends to undo this tradition, redefine its parameters, and delimit its scope.