In late March the province of Quebec passed a landmark legislation which stipulates that Muslim women who wear the face covering known as niqab will have to uncover their faces to be able to receive government services as well as when approaching government offices, schools, and other publicly funded institutions.
Liberals argue that a ban on wearing veils infringes the individual religious freedoms and rights guaranteed in the Canadian constitution. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms explicitly gives the liberty and civil right to every Canadian citizen to practice any religion they seek. Executive Director of the Islamic Social Services Association of the United States and Canada, Shahina Siddiqui stated the following to the Montreal Gazette, “In Canada all citizens have the right to personal freedom as long as it does not infringe on another’s right. However, when it comes to a Muslim woman, we have convinced ourselves that she is a victim of her husband’s dominance and so we do not believe her when she says ‘this is my choice’.
“What a cunning, circular web we weave. First we discredit her as an intellectual being, ridicule her claim to be a free-thinking woman, demonize her for practicing her faith, and then smugly claim to be emancipating her.”
Shahina Siddiqui argued against the proposed ban on the veil in Quebec. According to the Muslim Council of Montreal, there are only about 25 Muslims in the province who wear face coverings.
Vice President of Public Affairs, Mario Canseco, told the National Post that surveys conducted show ‘unusually high level of support for a government measure’. Mr Canseco stated, “It’s very rare to get 80% of Canadians to agree on something,” he said.
“With numbers like this, there is not going to be much of a controversy over the legislation in Quebec or anywhere else in the country,” he added.
However, Salam Elmenyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal, attributed the poll results to the emotional climate that surrounds the niqab issue. “They are giving it [the opinion] based on their emotional response to a woman covering her face, which is understandable,” Mr. Elmenyawi said. “It is associated with all the negative stereotypes that have been on the airwaves.”
Mr. Elmenyawi said the survey could have produced different results if the niqab debate had been conducted in a calmer atmosphere and with more empathy.
A similar ban is being proposed in France; however, the Council of State, France’s top legal advisory warned that such a ban would most likely be unconstitutional and contravene the European Convention on Human Rights.