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.


Niqab in the news: Let’s hear both sides of the story

Once again, the niqab is back in the news, this time regarding a Quebec women who’s taking a college to the Human Rights Commission because it reportedly expelled her for not taking off her niqab. She’s an immigrant taking French-language classes paid for by the government.

There has been widespread discussion and condemnation of this woman and her behaviour. The problem: So far, it has all been based on what the school and the government have said.  Folks all around (Muslims included) have been jumping to conclusions without hearing the woman’s side of the story.

If you read the school and government’s account, it does seem like she was asking for too much. Yet, that’s assuming everything they’re saying is 100% accurate. But in the absence of her side of the story, it’s unfair to jump to conclusions and condemn her for what she supposedly demanded.

Golden rule (found in Islamic principles as well): Hear all sides of the story, then decide.

Kudos to the CBC for finding her and getting at least some comment from her. (See: Niqab veil-wearing Montrealer feels treated unfairly)

Plus, since when did seeing the face become an integral part of learning French? French, unlike Arabic, doesn’t have specific points of articulation that would require seeing the tongue or lips. Niqabis have learned French in the past, while wearing their niqabs. Why is it an issue now?

UPDATE: Something else came to mind. The original LaPresse article on this states the college told the woman she was free to take the course online if she didn’t want to take her niqab off. If seeing the face is so important to learning French, how do the online courses work?


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?


Wearing niqab in France could cost up to $2,200

The French parliamentary report on the wearing of niqab and burqa in France is now online.

The report estimates there are 1,900 niqabis in France, of which:

  • 50% are under age 30
  • 90% are under 40
  • 66% are French citizens, half of which are 2nd and 3rd generation French
  • 25% are converts to Islam
  • 41% are Salafis

The report also:

  • repeats the myth that the niqab is a non-Islamic practice
  • attempts to study interpretations and evidences of niqab
  • suggests the wearing of niqab points towards identity issues and is a sign of radical movements
  • admits many young women wear the niqab by choice, primarily for two reasons: “the search for purity in practice of a more austere worship” and secondly “to create distance with a society considered to be perverted.”

There’s also an entire section on Salafism.

The report spends quite a bit of time studying niqab in various countries (north African as well as in the West), including Canada.

“In Canada, we have seen, this issue prospers on the exploitation of the judicial theory of ‘reasonable accommodation rights.’ We have noted though that this judicial notion is being questioned more and more in this country.”

It also discusses Quebec’s Bouchard-Taylor commission on reasonable accommodation and the Ontario court ruling on whether a woman can testify in court wearing niqab.

There’s a discussion on possible punishment for niqabis. The ideas discussed are:

  • a maximum fine of 1,500 euros ($2,245 Canadian) for the first offence and a maximum of 3,000 euros ($4,480 Canadian) for repeat offences
  • a mandatory course on “rights, history of the Republic, history of feminism and on religions”

Near the end, they try to figure out how they’re actually going to enforce prohibition. In the worst case scenario, if a niqabi refuses to identify herself, thus making it impossible to fine her, she could be taken to a police station and ordered to submit fingerprints and be photographed. If she refuses, she could be found guilty of an offence and fined 3,750 euros ($5,600 Canadian) and be thrown in jail for 3 months.

Tip: If you need translation help in reading the report, try Yahoo Babel Fish. It worked best for me.

UPDATE: The panel behind the report couldn’t agree on whether to call for a total ban on niqab or just ban niqab from public buildings and services, according to Reuters.