The Toronto Star – December 17, 2010
In Quebec in March 2010, provincial premier Jean Charest initiated legislation that would ban the niqab in public. Ontario’s Court of Appeal, meanwhile, said that the niqab must be removed in a court of law if the accused’s right to a fair trial requires it.
Farzana Hassan, a scholar and activist from Pakistan and the former president of the Muslim Canadian Congress, advocates a ban on the burqa and niqab, both of which obscure all of a woman’s face and head except her eyes. Hassan says the Qur’an does not demand adherence to these garments, and that even though some women say they “choose” to wear them, both represent a form of intolerable subjugation.
“The burqa is steeped in patriarchy,” says Hassan. “It is not a legitimate choice.”
In this opinion piece former Muslim Canadian Congress president Farzana Hassan posits that the niqab looms large over an Ontario court as a symbol of Islamist oppression of Muslim women. She is responding to a current debate in the Canadian courts. The Ontario Court of Appeal is debating a test case of a Muslim sexual-assault complainant who insists on remaining both invisible and anonymous, yet needs to testify in court. The woman enjoys support from a motley group of activists who are citing her right to religious freedom. For instance, the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) cautions against using this case to set a precedent, the feminist group wants the court to accommodate the woman’s request.
Hassan describes the niqab as a symbol of deep-rooted sexism, patriarchal control and inveterate misogyny. She claims it remains the most pernicious symbol of female subjugation, as many believe the niqab greatly stigmatizes and marginalizes women in society.
A Canadian Muslim group is calling on the Canadian government to ban the wearing of the burqa in public, saying the argument that the right to wear it is protected by the Charter’s guarantee of freedom of religion is false.
The Muslim Canadian Congress called on the federal government to prohibit the two garments in order to prevent women from covering their faces in public – a practice the group said has no place in a society that supports gender equality.
“To cover your face is to conceal your identity,” Congress spokeswoman Farzana Hassan said.
Mohamed Elmasry, former president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, disputed suggestions that the garments pose a security threat, saying only a minority of Muslim women living in Canada feel the need to conceal their features in public. Elmasry stated that women should have the freedom to decide whether they wish to cover their faces, and that a ban would limit freedom of expression.