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Quebec bars people with face coverings from getting public services

QUEBEC, Canada — Quebec’s lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday that would require public workers and citizens seeking government services to have their faces uncovered.

Bill 62 would affect whether Muslim women could wear religious face covering such as a niqab or burqa on government jobs or when they receive government services.

The Liberal government’s bill on religious neutrality was passed in Quebec’s National Assembly, reported CBC, CNN partner. The bill needs the lieutenant-governor’s assent to become law in the province.

“We are just saying that for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety, public services should be given and received with an open face,” said Premier Philippe Couillard of Quebec.

“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.”

Bill 62 was sponsored by Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée, who said people’s faces should be uncovered for “communication reasons, identification reasons and security reasons.”

“As long as the service is being rendered, the face should be uncovered,” Vallée told the CBC on Monday.

The bill has its share of critics, including many Muslim groups that say it targets and stigmatizes Muslim women who wear face-concealing veils.

A niqab covers the woman’s face except for the area around the eyes. A burqa covers the entire face and has a mesh over the eyes.

Vallée said Bill 62 doesn’t specifically target religious symbols, as the law would also apply to masked protesters.

“We’re talking about having the face uncovered. It’s not what is covering the face,” she told the CBC.

The niqab and burka are not mentioned in the legislation, according to CBC. But the debate over the bill has turned to what would happen to Muslim women wearing a niqab or a burqa who ride on public transit.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims slammed the bill’s passage, saying it “boils down to ugly identity politics” before the provincial election next year.

“By tabling this discriminatory legislation, the Quebec government is advancing a dangerous political agenda on the backs of minorities,” the rights group’s executive director, Ihsaan Gardee, said in a statement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said while the federal government does not interfere with provincial laws, the rights of all Canadians should be respected, the CBC reported.

France became the first European country to ban the full-face veil officially in 2010. Bans are also in place in Belgium and some parts of Switzerland, while other European countries have debated the issue.

In the United States, a Georgia legislator withdrew a bill last year that would have banned Muslim women from wearing burqas or veils while driving or when their driver’s license photos are taken.