Niqab vs. Quebec: Negotiating Minority Rights within Quebec Identity
University of Western Ontario Journal of Legal Studies (online) , Vol. 1, No. 1, 2012
31 Pages Posted: 28 Oct 2011 Last revised: 23 Feb 2012
Date Written: June 27, 2011
Quebec recently proposed legislation (Bill 94) that would require all individuals to reveal their face when seeking a government service. The proposed legislation particularly targets Muslim women who don the niqab. Underlying the present debate is an artificial dichotomy – a tension between a society’s interest in defining a common sense of citizenship and minority claims that seem inconsistent with the will of the majority. A Charter challenge – even if successful – would not fully address this underlying tension. In this paper, I argue that the heart of the present controversy relates to the need for a clear conception of Quebec identity. By considering the historical, social, ethnic, geographic and intrinsic significance of the French language, I argue that the French language, not secularism, is the key element of Quebec identity and facilitates a common sense of citizenship in Quebec. If a minority claim is capable of fitting within this conception of Quebec identity, then it poses no threat to Quebec citizenship, and thus, there should be no reason to exclude the claim – in this case the claim to wear the niqab when seeking a government service – from Quebec society.
Keywords: Niqab, Quebec, secularism, multiculturalism, identity, Islam, French, language, Canadian Charter
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