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Quebec Proposes New Bill to Ban Niqab

Friday, June 12, 2015

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CAIRO – Putting religious identity issue back on the front page, a new bill proposed by Quebec government has called for banning face coverings for people in public services, a suggestion criticized by Canadian Muslims for reinforcing negative stereotypes about Muslims.

“It constantly brings into the public discourse these images of women covering their faces. As soon as that image comes into media people react to it,” Amira Elghawaby, Human Rights Coordinator at the National Council of Canadian Muslims, told Montreal Gazette.

“It’s an unknown and it’s uncomfortable for people who haven’t seen it before and it creates the false assumption that all Muslim women cover their face when the opposite is true.

“It reinforces the notion that Muslims are alien to this culture. But they are doctors, journalists, and scientists taking part in society and that goes missing — it becomes about this tiny minority,” she added.

The new Bill 62, the neutrality bill, was tabled Wednesday, June 10, in the National Assembly.

Banning face coverings for people offering and receiving public services, the bill doesn't go as far as the previous Parti Québécois government's efforts to ban all religious symbols.

The province would accommodate those symbols under certain conditions.

Couillard’s Justice Minister, Stéphanie Vallée, said Wednesday that this bill is not about what you wear.

“We are not legislating on clothing,” Vallee said.

“Public services have to be offered and received with the face uncovered for security, identification and communication purposes.”

Less Controversial

The new bill was approved by many officials as more fair than the previous Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“If you put the accommodation clause that exceptions can be made, it will make it easier to pass the human rights test,” Jack Jedwab, the executive vice-president of the Association for Canadian Studies, said.

“Clearly it will be apparent to niqab-wearing women that this is about them. But the Muslim community is quite divided about it and a lot of Muslims would be supportive of this — more than we assume. … There is a lot more support for this out there across religious and language lines than we assume.”

Despite criticizing it, Elghawaby said the new bill, which leaves room for exceptions, seems balanced.

“I’m pleased there’s this concept of reasonable accommodation because at least there’s a dialogue — it’s not a banning of this or that,” said Elghawaby.

“This seems to be striking the right balance between concerns that some Canadians have around women who wear the niqab and their right to do so.”

Elghabawy said that the issue of women wearing a niqab has been going around and around for years, despite the tiny number of people who wear face coverings.

One study estimated there were about 80 women in Ontario who cover their faces, but there is no equivalent data for Quebec.

Muslims make around 2.8 percent of Canada's 32.8 million population, and Islam is the number one non-Christian faith in the north American country.

A survey has showed the overwhelming majority of Muslims are proud to be Canadian.

While hijab is an obligatory code of dress for Muslim women, the majority of Muslim scholars agree that a woman is not obliged to wear the face veil, or niqab, but believe that it is up to women to decide whether to cover her face.

In a recent poll, most for the Quebeckers were found not concerned about religious accommodations.

Though it has the second largest Muslim population in Canada, the east-central province of Quebec is one of the most Islamophobic provinces in the country, where Muslims are facing different kinds of discrimination and racism.


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