In his editorial column in the Toronto Star Haroon Siddiqui points to the errors within the two commonly cited reasons for supporting the anti-niqab bill in Quebec. Siddiqui states that the two most cited reasons in support of Quebec’s anti-niqab bill are that the veil is an imposed oppression since no woman would ever voluntarily wear it and, second, that the province’s proposal to deny public services to niqabi women is far less punitive than the strictures imposed on non-Muslims in some Muslim countries. Siddiqui concludes, with reference to statistics on women around the world and an argument of cultural relativism, that the first proposition is conjecture while the second is misguided moral equivalency.
Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert claims that the newspapers in Québec have a profound role in shaping the current niqab debate. She argues that by the sheer nature of its size and its relative homogeneity, francophone Quebec is home to a journalism of proximity that translates into a capacity to mobilize public opinion in ways unparalleled anywhere else in Canada. Gérard Bouchard – who co-chaired the recent Quebec commission on the so-called reasonable accommodation of cultural and religious minorities – has also often criticized the media for setting off that discussion on unduly inflammatory terms.
Hébert claims that if anything fuels the high level of support of the proposed Bill 94, it is certainly not populist empathy with Quebec but rather the post-9/11 environment and – more specifically – much of the media and political narratives on Afghanistan. It is impossible for media and politicians alike to spend the better part of half a decade advancing the notion that one is sacrificing Canadian lives to give women and girls a fairer shot at equality in Afghanistan – routinely using the burqa and the niqab as code images for oppression – and not expect a significant number of voters to want their place (or non-place) in Canada’s public arena addressed in no clear and decisive terms.
Quebec will refuse all government services, including education and non-emergency health care, to fully veiled Muslim women under legislation tabled yesterday in the National Assembly.
Jean Charest, the Liberal Premier, said the bill establishing guidelines for the accommodation of religious minorities is aimed at “drawing a line” to demonstrate that gender equality is a paramount Quebec value. The bill applies not only to government departments and Crown corporations but also to hospitals, schools, universities and daycares that receive funding from the province.
The proposed guidelines in Bill 94 follow an uproar this month over the expulsion of a niqab-wearing woman from French courses after she insisted that male students in her class not see her face. Quebec’s Immigration Department tracked her to a second college where she was studying French and had her expelled again because she would not remove her niqab, a veil that leaves open a slit for the eyes.
Quebec, which for more than three years has been grappling with the issue of accommodating religious differences, is the first province to take such a stance against the niqab and burqa. In Ontario, women wearing a full veil can make special arrangements to receive government services without exposing their faces to male bureaucrats.
Mr. Weinstock said Quebec is addressing head-on issues that are being ignored elsewhere in Canada. “This is a very good thing,” he said. “Whatever happens as a result of the debates in the National Assembly over this bill, and whatever the final form of this legislation is, we are having a very interesting societal debate here in Quebec that has to do with issues that are not specific to Quebec.”
Mohamed Elmasry, a professor of microchip design and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, takes issue with the treatment of Islam in Canada’s weekly news magazine publication, Maclean’s Magazine.
After considering how to best respond, whether with a criminal complaint or a civil case, Elmasry and the CIC decided on a quasi-judicial compromise by focusing on human rights commissions. All three of their complaints have been rejected. He claims, “The first point that I did learn from this exercise is that Islamophobia is alive and well in Canada, in the media and also in politics. In all of this, we’ve been victimized.” Elmasry adds that Canadian law is deficient because it lacks the concept of “group defamation” which would enable tribunals to uphold complaints such as his.
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