Missing the “Mark” on the question of the burqa and the niqab

The tempest over Bill 94 in the Quebec Legislature may be far more sinister than a simple question of discrimination or gender emancipation, for the proposed law is at its root a violation of section seven of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The fundamental principle of privacy finds its home in the idea of "life, liberty and security of the person."

Uncovering a face facilitates identification, and exposes the forehead for easy viewing. If Bill 94 becomes law, the burqa and the niqab must go, along with the privacy of shielding one's face, if one wishes to either work for the Province of Quebec or to receive services from the province.

Advocates for the "open face" law claim the overwhelming universal support of the electorate, reminiscent of the strong support Premier Maurice Duplessis enjoyed at the height of his persecution of Jehovah Witnesses, prior to losing his court battle with the courageous Frank Roncarelli.

Roncarelli irritated Duplessis by posting bail for his fellow Jehovah Witnesses, who annoyed Roman Catholics by their distribution of religious tracts and door-to-door proselytizing. In retaliation, Duplessis revoked Roncarelli's liquor license for his restaurant, which resulted in severe economic loss. Duplessis testified that the liquor license was a privilege, not a right, and as a matter of discretion that license was revocable.

The Supreme Court of Canada held in favor of Roncarelli.
Justices Rand and Judson stated, "there is no such thing as absolute and untrammeled ‘discretion'..." It was wrong to punish Roncarelli for doing something that he had an absolute right to do. It would have been legally wrong to refuse Roncarelli a permit (a government service) because he had been born in another province (or country) or had different colored hair (or been a woman and wore a burqa or niqab to cover her face).

These judges found that this kind of expansion of government authority signals the disintegration of the rule of law and undermines the national constitution.

Section Six of Bill 94 mandates that a recipient of a government service or benefit must "show their face" as a condition of eligibility to receive entitlements, such as medical or educational benefits or services.

Bill 94 omits any reference to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is subject only to the Quebec Charter of human rights and freedoms. Why should anyone be coerced into revealing their entire face or risk losing employment or an essential government services that all Quebeckers are entitled to?

It is not unlawful to cover up your own face. This happens annually on Halloween, in private and in public life. This kind of state coercion is incompatible with the rule of law, offends personal liberty to choose and is not limited in its textual language to any particular covering.

Is there another agenda that lurks beneath the surface? Haroon Siddiqui points out that Quebec's purpose to promote gender equality, a secular state, cultural integration and ease of human interaction is hypocritical in the face of the preferred status of other forms of accommodation given Christian symbols and organizations.

One way to determine why it is vital to bare the human face to receive a government service is to identify ongoing developments that may require an uncovered face.

Today, there exists the ability to implant into a human being a VeriChip, a radio-frequency identification device (RFID). This device is the size of a grain of rice, and has the ability to contain a database to verify a person's identity, access medical and school records, criminal records and has a unique 16-digit identification number that is transmitted when scanned by a reader at the proper frequency. This kind of technology permits the government to track, positively identify and control the population.

The commercial implications are also attractive: elimination of credit card fraud; no need to carry money to buy and sell; no need to worry about losing your driver's license or passport, for the chip contains all the required data; the identification of criminals and dissents, and no worries about finding abducted children.

According to Michael E. O'Brien, author of Mark of the Beast Finally Revealed, there are two ideal locations for a human implantation of chips that contain a tiny lithium battery that is activated by changing skin temperature: the forehead, or, alternatively, the back of the hand.

O'Brien is representative of numerous Internet doomsayers who claim that the biblical prophecy in Revelations 13:16-18 will soon come true.

In 2009, the RFID Industrial Daily reported that the government of Quebec began issuing RIFD enabled driver's licenses. The Akwesasne Phoenix reported in 2004 that Mohawks of Khanawake and the Crees of Quebec were to be guinea pigs for a worldwide smart card developed by Anteon, an American based corporation.

Want to block an RFID tag? Use metal or a Faraday cage, invented in 1836.

It may very well be there is no hidden agenda here and there is sincere good will to promote social harmony. I personally am fond of the premier, having run for the Progressive Conservative Party when he was my leader.

But the fact remains that this proposed legislation offends against the rule of law and violates section seven of the Charter of Rights.

Since those who wear the burqa and the niqab are so few in number, accommodation, tolerance and kindness should prevail over coerced uniformity and intolerance of diversity.

Comment sent in by email from Alec Roberts and posted by QCT online here. Comment also appears in the April 14, 2010 Edition of the newspaper.

I've read a lot of drivel in my time, much of it undoubtedly from my own pen, but Dr. Lugosi's meandering 07 April QC-T commentary entitled Missing the "Mark" (on the question of the burqa and niqua) is right up there with the worst of it. It's not the point of view he supports that is of concern here. Rather, it is the specious, ridiculous, Orwellian argumentation, with possible conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure, that is used to support his conclusion that "... accommodation tolerance and kindness should prevail over coerced uniformity and intolerance of diversity".

Specious: Although comparing the dictatorial methods utilized by Duplessis against Roncarelli all those years ago to adoption of the current "open face" law may seem deceptively plausible, contemplative reflection reveals that this comparison is egregious at best and rabble rousing at worst. After more than two years of open discussion concerning reasonable accommodation, including a wide-ranging and very open Taylor/Bouchard Commission, the government has decided to act in such a way that the ground rules are made clear to everyone. These ground rules, which respect to a large degree the cultural and historical values of the Québeçois society, are not exactly the "coerced uniformity and intolerance of diversity" decried by Dr. Lugosi.

Ridiculous: Comparing the covering of women's faces on a regular basis by a burqa or a niqua to "what happens annually on Halloween" by children for a couple of hours once a year is not worth further comment.

Orwellian: It's quite a leap from a simple uncovering of the face in certain reasonable circumstances to the radio-frequency identification device (RFID). Yes, this technology will be useful for concentrating, for example, medical histories and certain types of criminal records. To extrapolate from there, however, to a position from which government would "track, positively identify and control the population" using RFIDs is simply too farfetched. Happily, democratic societies have a way of drawing a line in the sand over such matters. I have great faith that this would occur should ‘big brother' try to go too far.

Conspiracy Theory - Whenever additional ammunition is needed to support a desperate and untenable position, a good conspiracy theory comes in handy. It doesn't this time. There is no conspiracy. The collectivity, after taking into account the views from all corners of our wonderfully particular society, has prevailed. It is one's right to disagree, of course, but a logical and democratic procedure has been followed in this instance.

The proposed legislation does not offend, by any stretch of the imagination, the rule of law. Whether or not it violates Section 7 of the Charter of Rights remains to be seen, but if Dr. Lugosi so hopes, let him find more logical and defendable arguments than those put forth in his commentary.

Alec Roberts