After months of balancing a woman’s religious beliefs with her desire to learn French, the Quebec government stepped into her classroom to offer an ultimatum: take off the niqab or drop the course. The woman opted to keep her Islamic face-covering and has filed a human rights complaint against the government. In the province of Quebec where the government frequently faces accusations of doing too much to accommodate minorities, these actions have prompted a fair bit of praise.
The woman began taking a French course designed for immigrants at a Montreal college in February 2009 but she refused to remove her niqab while men were present. The college was initially willing to accommodate her, but eventually balked as her demands escalated. In what appears to be a highly unusual move, provincial Immigration Minister Yolande James intervened. Officials from her department, acting with the minister’s knowledge, met with the woman to discuss her options.
Several groups, including several teachers’ unions, applauded the government for drawing a line in the sand. So did moderate Muslim groups. “When people come to Canada, we’re not coming to the Islamic Republic of Canada,” said Raheel Raza, a Muslim women’s-rights activist who has argued for a public ban on religious face coverings. The Canadian Muslim Forum, which claimed the woman was intimidated by other members of her class, said the move amounts to a misreading of the situation.”In Quebec people have the right to wear what they want,” spokeswoman Kathy Malas said.