Quebec, facing criticism over a new law that prohibits people wearing face coverings from getting government services in the Canadian province, said it would only apply in certain cases and will not limit access to emergency services.
The mainly French-speaking province passed the law which does not specify which face coverings are prohibited but has largely focused debate on the niqab worn by some Muslim women.
People affected by the law would include public-sector employees such as teachers, police officers, hospital and daycare workers and those dealing with them.
Quebec’s Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee said the province wants to ensure accurate identification and better communication and public safety.
Vallee said women would have to remove their veils when necessary for identification but not for the entirety of a transit ride or other public service. She said no-one would be denied emergency medical care, even if they refused to unveil.
Vallee’s remarks come amid continuing protests against the law, including from Muslim groups and rights advocates. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the government has no place dictating what women wear but stopped short of saying Ottawa would challenge the law.
Right-wing extremist groups and some local French-speaking media in recent years have targeted Quebec’s Muslims as part of a broader debate on the accommodation of religious and cultural minorities in the province.
Incidents of Islamophobia have increased in Quebec in recent years. In January, six people were killed in a shooting at a Quebec City mosque. A French-Canadian university student has been charged as the sole suspect. (Reuters)