ArticlesVolume 9, Issue 1 (2018)

Quebec’s Bill 62: Legislating Difference

Vrinda Narain

Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University & Research Associate, International Studies Group, University of the Free State, South Africa
Citation:9 COLUM. J. RACE & L. 53

Abstract

On October 18, 2017, Bill 62, whose full English title is “An Act to foster adherence to state religious neutrality and, in particular, to provide a framework for religious accommodation requests in certain bodies,” came into force in the Canadian province of Quebec. In effect, Bill 62 prohibits niqab-wearing women from giving or receiving public services. It reflects anxiety about religious minorities’ illiberal practices and discomfort with the accommodation of religious difference—the “hypervisibility” of Islamic differences in particular. Bill 62 constructs the multiculturalism and reasonable accommodation debates in a way that erases race and replaces it with culture and religion. In turn, the politics of reasonable accommodation in Quebec conceptualize racialized minorities as threats to Canadian and Quebecois national identity and casts them aside as illegitimate citizens unless they assimilate. State multiculturalism and the reasonable accommodation discourse reinforce the racial status quo by setting the terms of the debate and the limits of tolerance—the “epistemic conditions” that dissuade a close scrutiny of the state’s management of diversity. This Article offers a close analysis of Bill 62 by following a framework that is built on four pillars: (1) interrogating secularism and state neutrality; (2) foregrounding structural difference to achieve systemic equality; (3) theorizing reasonable accommodation; and (4) combatting persisting colonial and Orientalist tropes of racialized Muslim women.