Quebec lawmakers pass law obliging citizens to uncover faces

Women in traditional garb gather to protest against Quebec's proposed Charter of Values in Montreal, in this September 14, 2013 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 19 October 2017
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Quebec lawmakers pass law obliging citizens to uncover faces

MONTREAL: Quebec legislators passed a religious neutrality bill Wednesday that will oblige citizens to uncover their faces while giving and receiving state services, triggering criticism that the law targets Muslim women.
Quebec’s two main opposition parties opposed the bill because they argued it didn’t go far enough in restricting the presence of conspicuous symbols of all religions in the public sphere.
The new law has two basic components: It bans the wearing of face coverings for people giving or receiving a service from the state and it offers a framework outlining how authorities should grant accommodation requests based on religious beliefs. While the bill doesn’t specifically mention specific clothing, it would prohibit the burka and niqab when people interact with the state, but it doesn’t extend to other religious symbols.
Premier Philippe Couillard said he expects some people to challenge the law, but he defended the legislation as necessary for reasons related to communication, identification and security.
“The principle to which I think a vast majority of Canadians by the way, not only Quebecers, would agree upon is that public services should be given and received with an open face,” he said. “I speak to you, you speak to me. I see your face. You see mine. As simple as that.”
Advocacy groups and academics have condemned the measure.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims said it is “studying its options” with regard to a possible court challenge.
The attorney general of Ontario province, Yasir Naqvi, said his province didn’t plan any similar measure and criticized Quebec’s action.
“We respect people’s right to express their religious beliefs and we disagree with the law Quebec has brought in and we will never introduce such a law in Ontario,” Naqvi said.
Quebec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee said guidelines on how to apply the law — notably criteria touching on reasonable accommodation — would be phased in by next June 30 after consultations. Provisions regarding daycare workers will kick in by next summer to allow educators to get training, but the majority of the face-covering provisions will take effect immediately.
That means people who sit for an exam will have to do so with their faces uncovered. Asked specifically about someone getting on a bus, Vallee replied that all such services must be offered or received without a face covering.


UN council support tough action for peacekeeping failures

Updated 5 min 42 sec ago
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UN council support tough action for peacekeeping failures

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Friday to support tougher UN action against peacekeepers who fail to protect civilians, including by sending them home and refusing to pay their governments.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley said after the adoption of the US-sponsored resolution that the council had responded to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ challenge “to step up and strengthen peacekeeping.”
“The actions we take today will make the United Nations a better, more effective instrument of peace and security,” she said. “This resolution mandates a timely and transparent reporting process for performance failures. It creates real accountability measures for when these failures occur.”
The United Nations, which deploys 96,000 peacekeepers in 14 far-flung missions from the Mideast to Africa to Haiti, has come under sharp criticism in recent years for sexual abuse by its troops and failures to protect civilians.
The United States is the largest contributor to peacekeeping, but deploys only 50 officers to UN missions.
Haley has been trying to cut the peacekeeping budget, which this year is $7.3 billion, and she announced in March that the Trump administration was reducing its 28.5 percent assessment to 25 percent.
Some countries that contribute troops to UN missions privately expressed unhappiness at the initial US draft resolution. Russia and China said earlier this month that the views of troop contributors needed to be taken into account, and Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Friday he almost voted against the measure.
Haley said the US rejected “business as usual” for the resolution and did engage major troop contributing countries.
The resolution honors “the heroic work of tens of thousands of United Nations uniformed and civilian peacekeeping personnel” and underscores that the UN “should not let the performance failures of a few tarnish the achievements of the whole.”
But it also expresses “deep concern about the serious and continuous allegations and underreporting of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations peacekeepers.” It further takes aim at “continued instances of underperformance,” including inaction by UN soldiers against imminent threats to civilians they are mandated to protect.
The council reaffirmed support for the development of a comprehensive policy with clear standards on peacekeeping performance and “well-defined benchmarks to ensure accountability for underperformance and incentives and recognition for outstanding performance.”
It said “a range of responses proportionate to the identified performance failures” are needed. These should include “transparent public reporting,” repatriating or replacing military units, and withholding financial payments to governments of uniformed personnel, the council said. For civilian members of UN missions, the measures for performance failures should include revoking or changing duties, dismissing them or not renewing contracts, it said.