Niqab issue makes it to Quebec’s National Assembly as niqabi student expelled again

The Quebec government has once again expelled a student from its French classes because she had been accepted for the class at another centre. Read more here.

This happened yesterday. Yesterday was also the first day Quebec’s National Assembly (the provincial parliament) reconvened after a break. Sure enough, the niqab issue was brought up by the opposition. And all indications are this is going to get a lot worse (blog post on that coming soon).

Here is a translation of the debate that took place at Quebec’s National Assembly:

Mrs. Beaudoin (Rosemont): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Confusion reigns in our institutions because of the laissez-faire attitude of the Liberal government. Nobody knows anymore how to treat the requests for religious accommodation. Last week, it was learned that it is the Minister for the Immigration who intervened to expel a young woman who did not want to withdraw her niqab in a Francization course at CEGEP Saint-Laurent. Today, the minister had to prevail again after this same young woman re-registered while keeping on her niqab in another course of Francization subsidized by the government. Its directive was thus not very clear.

For how many years will the government continue to to manage this issue on a case-by-case basis, by arbitrary decisions without clear directions for the government officials and the users?

The Speaker: Mrs. the Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities.

Mrs. James: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Initially, it is necessary to say, in the case which the deputy of Rosemont raises, the government assumed its responsibility. The Madam was met and it was clearly indicated to her: To take the Francization course….the Francization courses are to be given with the face uncovered.

So there is no compromise around it, it is not a blur, it is exactly that, Mr. President. It was the case the past week, it is the case today and that will be the case tomorrow. Because we will make no compromise on the equality between the men and the women and it is our government which makes the decisions to protect the values from Quebec, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker: In complementary question, Mrs. the deputy of Rosemont.

Mrs. Beaudoin (Rosemont): Then, it is a case-by-case approach which continues, Mr. Speaker, it is what we saw this week and last week. But can the minister indicate to us precisely when and how her government’s policy on having the face uncovered will be known and especially adopted so that finally it applies to the students of the courses of Francization, but also in the whole of public institutions and semi-public institutions?

The Speaker: Mrs. the Minister for Immigration and the Cultural communities.

Mrs. James: Mr. Speaker, in the case which we’re dealing with now, there’s no case-by-case approach. The services for the person who presents herself, which wishes to attend the courses of Francization, that is to be done with the face uncovered. The person in question, and I repeat… Mr. Speaker, I would like that…


The Speaker: Mrs. the minister.

Mrs. James: In Quebec, we receive the services with the face uncovered and we provide services with an uncovered face, Mr. Speaker. Plus, the deputy prime minister thus indicated last week that the government intends to make other moves, but this is very, very clearly, and I want to repeat that for the deputy of Rosemont, there is no ambiguity nor compromise on this question. The Madam in question was met…

The Speaker: While finishing.

Mrs. James: … it was very clearly indicated to her that the services are given to those with an uncovered face.

The Speaker In complementary question, Mrs. the chief of the official opposition.

Mrs. Marois: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. For rightfully avoiding case-by-case decisions, can the Prime Minister finally take his responsabilities and accept to introduce into the Charter of the Rights and Freedoms of the person the fundamental values for the Québécois people and especially and finally to adopt clear guidelines to frame reasonable accommodation in Quebec, Mr. Speaker?

The Speaker: Mr. the Prime Minister.

Mr. Charest: The government precisely amended the Charter to reinforce the principle of the equality between women and men, which the leader of the official opposition supported. Moreover, her party participated in the parliamentary commission looking into this question. They even were, I note it today, divided in their opinions regarding the measures to be taken, on…

Yes, if one reads again what Louise Harel said at the time and what you’re saying today, obviously, another who left, I know it, but, Mr. Speaker, obviously there are divisions. That being said, on the principles, the Québécois values, the government always was…

The Speaker: While finishing.

Mr. Charest: … very clearly: The equality, the language, secularity, they are our values.


Canada wants to charge air travelers up to 900% more than US in security fees

Last week, Transport Minister John Baird announced $1.5 billion in new funding for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) to “enhance Canadian aviation security.” The new funding will come from air travelers.

After hyping up why more security is needed and talking about all the wonderful technology air travelers can experience (like naked body scanners), the press release divulges how much more the government expects flyers to pay for these services.

Here’s what that table looks like:

Proposed ATSC Rates ($)

Current Initial Rate in 2002 April 2010 and Ongoing
Domestic (one-way) 4.90 12.00 7.48
Domestic (round trip) 9.80 24.00 14.96
Transborder 8.34 12.00 12.71
Other international 17.00 24.00 25.91
Note: The above rates include the GST or the federal portion of the HST where applicable.

So if you’re planning to take a round-trip flight within Canada, you’ll pay about $15 more. If you’re flying overseas, you’ll pay over $25 in security fees.

Compare that to the security fees in the United States (called the September 11 Security Fee) and you’ll notice it’s much more higher here in Canada. The Americans charge $2.50 per flight segment, for a maximum of $5.00 one-way, whether you’re flying within the US or overseas. So if you’re flying non-stop from Toronto or Montreal to let’s say London, Dubai or anywhere else around the world, you’ll pay $25.91 versus $2.50 if you flew out of New York or Washington. That over 900% more.

My first thought was that the Canadian government just wanted to rip off travelers. After all, why would our security cost more than the Americans? Security costs should be relative to the number of travelers.

But after poking around some documents, I realized the problem. CATSA received $618 million from the Canadian government in 2009/2010, while the US budget for the Transportation Security Administration was almost $6 billion. With the US population approximately 10 times more than Canada’s, that about right.

The problem is this: While the TSA in the US receives over $2 billion in fees and the rest (around $4 billion) in funding through the federal government, CATSA in Canada is expected to make up for most (if not all) of its funding needs through fees.

My recommendation: Seriously consider flying out from the US. Buffalo, Burlington, Detroit and Seattle are all good option.


Niqab in Denmark: Same story, two different spins

Here’s a clear example of how one story can be spun in different ways.

The story: Denmark’s Prime Minister says while the “burqa and niqab have no place in Danish society,” the government is not going to impose an outright ban.

Agence France Press, a French newswire service, sends out this story: Burka and niqab have no place in Denmark, PM says.

Meanwhile, the Copenhagen Post, Denmark’s only English-language newspaper, has this story: No burka ban forthcoming.

Can you spot the difference?


Omar Khadr’s rights violated, government should do something: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Canada has just issued a ruling on the Omar Khadr case. Here’s the summary of the ruling, in the Court’s own words:

“The appropriate remedy in this case is to declare that K’s Charter rights were violated, leaving it to the government to decide how best to respond in light of current information, its responsibility over foreign affairs, and the Charter.”

So the Court is saying: Yes, Khadr’s rights were violated. We’re not going to order you (the government) to bring him home from Guantanamo, but we expect you to do something to fix this.
The court has also awarded costs to Khadr.

For anyone who’s interested, the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights, part of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law, was one  of the intervenors and supported Khadr’s case.