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editorial

Over the weekend, Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée was still trying to figure out why people responded so angrily to a law that bans provincial and municipal government employees from providing services to anyone wearing a face-covering.

After all, she said in an interview on Sunday, Bill 62, which became law last week, is the product of the decade-long discussion Quebec has been having on the accommodation of religious practices in a mostly secular society. "It's a simple law," she said.

That may well be the problem – Bill 62 is too simpleminded in its focus on one polarizing religious practice. Quebec's soul-searching on religious accommodation is in no way resolved by a vague law whose only concrete effect is to ban veiled Muslim women from municipal buses, libraries, schools, hospitals, and government offices.

That was it? That was the whole problem? Ten years of rancorous debate and all it was really about was a few people with face-coverings?

Ms. Vallée and her boss, Premier Philippe Couillard, have expressed bewilderment that this has been badly received. They argue that a bill entitled "An Act to foster adherence to state religious neutrality" is to be read as a legislative response to face-coverings in general, from sunglasses to bandanas, as if wearing Ray-Bans were an overt act of devotion and this is not about Muslims. It's all so absurd.

The beleaguered Ms. Vallée has thankfully begun to walk back the reach of Bill 62. Where she once said the law means that a veiled woman must show her face the entire time she is riding a bus, she hinted on Sunday that regulations, which she will introduce this week, may mean women only have to lift their veil momentarily for the purpose of, for instance, verifying a bus pass that includes the user's photograph.

If so, then Bill 62 will be an acceptable, but rather redundant, law.

It is well established in Canada that a woman wearing a veil for religious or cultural reasons will at times be obliged to briefly show her face to prove her identity, or else risk being refused a government service.

It is also fairly pointless, given Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to adopt a law that limply asks government workers to be "careful to neither favour nor hinder a person because of the person's religious affiliation or non-affiliation."

Basically, this law may end up accomplishing nothing that isn't already covered by the Charter, or isn't currently in practice. All it will do is sow division and mistrust.