Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer:
My question is also to the Leader of the Government in the Senate.
The ban against face covering in Quebec’s Bill C-62 is an attack against the Charter rights of Muslim Canadians in Quebec. Section 2 of the Charter clearly states that all Canadians have the fundamental freedoms of expression and religion. The niqab allows women who wear it to express their faith, therefore Bill C-62 violates their section 2 rights.
Section 15 of the Charter also guarantees that no individual will be singled out by our laws because of their religion or gender. In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled that laws cannot have adverse impacts on particular groups, even if the law is drafted in a neutral way. Since the law both targets and adversely affects Muslim women, Bill C-62 also violates section 15 of our Charter.
I believe that the government understands the unconstitutional nature of the niqab ban.
The very first thing the Prime Minister did when he became Prime Minister was to withdraw the case of Zunera Ishaq, who challenged the ban on wearing face coverings during the oath of citizenship. That was true leadership on behalf of all Canadians and for the protection of the rights of all Canadians.
Leader, we find ourselves faced with a similar situation today. Muslim women in Quebec are being marginalized because of their choice to express their faith by wearing the niqab. It is our responsibility to defend the equality rights of all Canadians guaranteed in our Constitution.
The government has now set up a Court Challenges Program. Will the government support and finance challenges against Bill C-62 through the recently reinstated Court Challenges Program?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for her question and for her comments which reflect the actions of this government and the positions that the Prime Minister has taken in this regard.
In respect of Bill C-62, the Prime Minister has reminded all Canadians that the government has not only an obligation to protect rights under the Charter, and the government will continue to do so, but that governments should not be telling people how to dress or what to wear.
The Prime Minister is acutely aware of the debate going on in the province of Quebec in this regard. The government is watching that debate unfold, and I will bring to the attention of the appropriate authorities the suggestion of the honourable senator.
Senator Jaffer: Leader, can you also find out, when women who wear the niqab go into federal offices in Quebec, will they have to remove their niqab?
Senator Harder: To be clear, the Government of Canada, in respect of offering its services, is not in the practice of telling people how to dress.