Full body covering
Full body coveringIstock

The Canadian province of Quebec passed a sweeping ban on full-face coverings Wednesday. The legislation bans public workers from wearing the niqab or burqa and requires citizens to remove their face coverings when taking public transportation or receiving public services.

The bill, which passed by a majority of 66 to 51, is the first of its kind in North America. Several European nations ban face coverings, including Muslim veils such as the niqab. France became the first European nation to ban face coverings in 2010.

Human rights groups slammed the new law for targeting Muslim women specifically.

Philippe Couillard, the premier of Quebec, defended the law. "We are just saying that for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety, public services should be given and received with an open face,” he told reporters after the law was passed. “We are in a free and democratic society. You speak to me, I should see your face, and you should see mine. It’s as simple as that.”

Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée, who sponsored the bill, said that people's faces should be uncovered in public for "communication reasons, identification reasons and security reasons."

The National Council of Canadian Muslims condemned the law, saying " it boils down to ugly identity politics"

“It seems like a made-up solution to an invented problem,” council director Ihsaan Gardee told the Guardian. “We don’t have a big issue right now with hordes of Muslim women in niqab trying to work in the public service or accessing public services with difficulty.”

"By tabling this discriminatory legislation, the Quebec government is advancing a dangerous political agenda on the backs of minorities," Gardee added.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the federal government would not interfere with provincial laws, but the civil rights of all Canadians should be respected, the CBC reported.