Blog 090: Bill 62 and Dress Codes

Pierre Marchand

2017-10-28

In Canada outside Quebec, some people, including Justin Trudeau, oppose the ban on face-coverings on the pretext that no government should tell women how to dress. (This idea is expressed even in Quebec, for example by Luc Lavoie on LCN, the day after Bill 62 was adopted, or by the federal M.P. of Brossard-St-Lambert, Alexandra Mendez.) This argument is totally fallacious.

Firstly, Bill 62 in no way tells women how to dress. It simply says that everyone’s face must be visible, men and women alike.

Secondly, contrary to what these persons claim, the right to dress as one wishes is not absolute.

Indeed, in many areas of society, there is proper clothing, often mandatory. For instance, construction workers must wear a protective helmet and steel-capped shoes. Lawyers must wear a gown and a wing collar with bands when pleading in court. Judges also have to wear a gown. Policemen and policewomen, firemen and firewomen, as well as prison guards have a mandatory uniform. Members of the armed forces are required to wear a uniform corresponding to their rank and service. Students at certain private schools also have a uniform or a dress code. Banks impose a dress code on their employees. Hotel doormen and bellboys must wear a uniform. The employees of Walmart, Canadian Tire, Home Depot, wear distinctive clothing, etc. Yet no one contests these limits on their freedom—except extremists.

There are also clothing limitations. Some are explicit while others are the subject of laws or regulations. For instance, a person who is not a policemen or policewoman is not allowed to dress as one. A person who is not an army major is not allowed to dress as an army major. It is not permitted to attend or to testify in a court trial barefoot (even chewing gum or wearing a hat is prohibited). A deputy may not sit in the National Assembly wearing an undershirt. It is not permitted to swim fully dressed in a public swimming pool (except for a Muslim woman wearing a burkini, alas). Civil servants are not allowed to wear clothing promoting a political party. Other dress codes are less explicit but nevertheless constraining. Television announcers usually wear a jacket and necktie, while female announcers usually wear modest clothing. One does not wear a swim suit to church or to attend a concert at Place des arts. A Montreal Canadians player could not reasonably appear on ice wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater. Few businesses would warmly welcome a client wearing a KKK hood. The Nazi uniform is also frowned upon. Yet no one invokes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to avoid these dress limitations—except extremists.

With Bill 62, the dress code for Quebec civil servants is to show their face. Is this unduly restrictive? Is it an unreasonable requirement? Those who deal with public servants are required to show their face for security, identification and communication purposes. Is wanting to know whom you are dealing with an unreasonable requirement?

But is it reasonable to prohibit the full-face motorcycle helmet, the bandana or the ski mask and put up with the full veil? Or is it different in the case of the niqab or the burka on the pretext that religion is involved? Is religious freedom a right that takes precedence over all other rights stipulated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

It seems that this is the interpretation adopted by the Supreme Court of Canada. This is the reason why Sikh members of the RCMP are allowed to wear a turban and a kirpan. It is the reason why a federal court allowed Zunera Ishaq to wear a niqab when taking the Oath of Citizenship. This is the reason why certain judges allow witnesses to wear a niqab. This is the reason why one can vote at federal elections without showing one’s face. This is the reason why Sikh schoolchildren are allowed to wear a kirpan at school. For the same reason, Jagmeet Singh, the newly elected chief of the NDP, wants Sikh motorcyclists to be exempted from wearing a protective helmet. (Would he also require Sikh firemen to be allowed to enter a blaze wearing a turban instead of a fireman’s helmet?). All these accommodations are unreasonable because they are granted on the basis of beliefs and superstitions instead of reason. Instead of promoting togetherness, they create divisions along religious dividing lines and favour communitarianism.

Unfortunately, this also seems to be what Bill 62 proposes, since it states that religious accommodations will be possible. This means that the bill will apply to everyone except to those who claim that their religion commands them to hide their face. It is therefore difficult to understand the malevolent and hysterical outcry of the Rest of Canada, Justin Trudeau, his deputy Alexandra Mendez and certain Muslim groups. It is as if they are striving to break down a door that is already open. As David Rand says in blog 089, “much ado about almost nothing.”

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