How a Quebec student’s hijab became the target of a political and cultural storm

Groundhog Day…

The photograph on the Montreal business school’s website was intended to demonstrate a young woman’s possibility and her academic success.

“A rewarding international presence,” reads the blurb beside the photo, written in a black font to match the black cloth hijab wrapped around the head and neck of the woman’s smiling face.

There is not much more that would stand out as unusual in the promotional image of the Algerian exchange student at the HEC Montréal — an image the school uses to tout its international programs, a deep and important revenue stream for the institution, as it is for most other Canadian universities.

But when Jean-François Lisée, a prominent Quebec academic, writer and former politician, viewed the image last weekend, he saw it not as a ploy by a public institution in search of private funds.

Instead, the former leader of the sovereigntist Parti Québécois flared at what he took to be a breach of the secular codes that Quebec governments have been trying to establish over the past two decades to separate religion and the state.

Those efforts culminated in 2019 with the passage into law of Bill 21, which enshrines state secularism, mainly by banning public-sector workers from wearing items of religious clothing or decoration, including crucifixes, turbans and hijabs, while at work.

“University students can display their convictions, religious or not,” Lisée wrote on Twitter. “But for a public institution that is by definition secular, pro-science and pro-gender equality to normalize a misogynistic religious sign in an ad is unacceptable.”

The rebuke from a man who has straddled Quebec’s media and political realms for more than 40 years cast the province back into a fraught debate that it cannot seem to resolve.

Increasingly present in the form of turbans, hijabs and kippahs, at least in part due to immigration patterns in the province, many of Quebec’s white, francophone majority would apparently prefer that religion be neither seen nor heard from in the public sphere.

But each instance of religion rearing its head, reigniting the debate over the place of religious expression in a secular society, is like a freshly formed scab over a cut that is pulled away, exposing the wound to the sting of fresh air.

Kimberley Manning calls them “moments of punctuation” that revive the frequently noxious debate that, in her opinion, risks revictimizing religious minorities in Quebec.

“They contribute to and exacerbate an ever-present experience of not being fully Quebeckers,” says the associate professor of political science at Montreal’s Concordia University. “This is what seems to be coming through in the polling and the research.”

Manning has done her own work, notably a March study of students that found feelings of discrimination that respondents linked to the province’s secularism law.

A more extensive study of Bill 21’s impacts in Quebec, released this week, contends that the law has created a frightening, oppressive and grim environment for religious minorities.

In surveys, Jews, Sikhs and Muslims reported a deterioration in their likelihood to participate in social and political life in the province, in their sense of personal safety, and in their confidence for future prospects.

“(The law) promises all kinds of very noble values, and when we measured those up against the results in the study, we see that it doesn’t achieve those values of neutrality, equality and social harmony,” says Miriam Taylor, director of publications and partnerships with the Association of Canadian Studies.

What the law — most any law — does do is normalize and concretize the biases which underpin it, Taylor says.

Survey respondents said they had experienced a rise in verbal abuse, threats and physical confrontations since the law was adopted.

This jibes with anecdotal evidence and a general sense of uncertainty and anxiety in Quebec’s Muslim communities, says Lina El Bakir, Quebec Advocacy Officer for the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

“When you set out a law that is discriminatory, you allow that to permeate society and people’s views,” she says.

“It affects mental health, it affects security, it affects the ability to just be, you know?”

Lisée, who declined an interview request, said in his criticisms that his beef was not with the Algerian exchange student in the hijab, but with the business school.

The website content in question does not breach any aspects of the provincial law, but he said it sends a message to young Algerians standing up to the pressure of imams and fundamentalists that the school “is not your ally.”

An HEC Montréal spokesperson says the only goal of the image was to show off the diversity of its student body, which includes 3,746 international students from 142 countries. The image will come down from the site next week — not because of Lisée’s indignation but because that’s when its previously scheduled two-week publication run ends.

That may come as a relief to the student, who came to Montreal to obtain a business degree and now finds herself in a debate that is part polisci, part sociology — one that has been going on so long that at least part of it belongs to the annals of history.

Speaking to La Presse columnist Rima Elkouri, the 22-year-old, who declined the Star’s interview request, explained she was initially nervous about coming to study in Canada. She had heard about the killing of four members of the Afzaal family of London, Ont., who were run down by the driver of a pickup truck on June 6, 2021, in what police allege was a hate-motivated attack.

But, Nouha, who was identified only by her first name, said she quickly warmed to her new home in Montreal.

“I have never suffered from discrimination or a lack of respect,” she told the Montreal newspaper.

She said that wearing the hijab was a personal decision, not one forced upon her by her family, though she acknowledged the women who have no choice in the matter.

“I’m against that,” she said, adding that she considers herself a feminist.

“I’ve never found (the hijab) to be a symbol that diminishes the value of a woman. Personally, I consider myself to be a very strong woman. In a few years, I’ll be managing a team of workers. I can’t afford to see myself as a weak person.”

She also said she acknowledges and understands the principles of secularism in Quebec.

“I understand that the school must be truly neutral. But from my point of view, it’s also important to display people from minority groups because those minorities look for a place where they feel at peace.”

The issues on display are not going away.

Before the end of the month, Quebec will be into a provincial election campaign and parties have often fallen back on identity issues to stir up the passions of their voters.

Taylor said she worried about the negative consequences of a campaign in which religion and secularism, majority views and minority rights were “instrumentalized for political gain.”

Before the end of the year, Quebec’s court of appeal is expected to hear a legal challenge to Bill 21. And in Ottawa, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has already promised to challenge the provincial secularism law at the Supreme Court.

Taylor’s study found that support for the law among Quebeckers would drop considerably if the Supreme Court ruled that it violated the Constitution.

This bolsters El Bakir’s contention that Quebeckers, like other Canadians, value human rights, despise discrimination and strive for equality.

But she reverts to her native French, and invokes the most Quebecois of expressions, to explain that an older segment of the Quebec population support secularism because they remember when the Catholic Church exerted strict control over all aspects of the province —from schools to hospitals to politics to family life.

“It doesn’t take the head of Papineau!” she says, in reference to Louis-Joseph Papineau, a leader of the rebel Patriote movement in 19th century Lower Canada who was reputed for his intelligence.

“I do understand where older generations are coming from, however societies evolve and we need to understand that realities do change, and one narrative doesn’t always apply.”

Source: How a Quebec student’s hijab became the target of a political and cultural storm

La publicité de HEC Montréal provoque une nouvelle réaction

Sigh… The usual over-reaction over what should be a non-issue:

Une publicité de HEC Montréal montrant une femme qui porte le hidjab et dénoncée par l’ex-politicien Jean-François Lisée a continué de susciter de nombreuses réactions mardi.

Alors que deux avocates de confession musulmane témoignaient dans nos pages de leur désaccord avec la position de M. Lisée, qui considère que la publicité présente un « signe religieux misogyne », la présidente du Rassemblement pour la laïcité, Nadia El-Mabrouk, abonde plutôt dans le sens de l’ex-politicien et dénonce la publicité.

[Montrer le voile dans la publicité], c’est un point de vue favorable à l’islam intégriste, c’est mettre de l’avant des pratiques intégristes

« Ce n’est pas neutre de faire ça. Ça vient avec une vision de la diversité et de la représentativité des signes religieux », plaide-t-elle en entrevue téléphonique. La Québécoise d’origine tunisienne, qui est aussi professeure au Département d’informatique et de recherche opérationnelle à l’Université de Montréal, croit qu’« on n’a pas à représenter toutes les idées » dans des campagnes publicitaires. « [Montrer le voile dans la publicité], c’est un point de vue favorable à l’islam intégriste, c’est mettre de l’avant des pratiques intégristes, assène-t-elle. Quand les femmes disent “c’est mon choix” [de porter le voile], ça ne répond pas à la question “pourquoi c’est mon choix ?” »

En entrevue avec Le Devoir la veille, l’avocate de formation et autrice Dania Suleman a soutenu que « certaines femmes portent le hidjab par choix, et ça leur permet de se sentir beaucoup plus libres ». Elle a également estimé la position de M. Lisée « désolante », jugeant qu’elle « continue à aliéner les femmes qui portent le voile ».

Mme El-Mabrouk, autrice du livre Notre laïcité, paru en 2019, est fortement en désaccord. « On ne peut pas prendre un symbole clair de l’islamisme et prétendre que ça dit exactement le contraire », soutient-elle.

Sur les réseaux sociaux

De nombreux citoyens se sont indignés du tweet de Jean-François Lisée, tandis que plusieurs lui ont apporté leur appui, dont notamment Ensaf Haidar, ex-candidate du Bloc québécois dans Sherbrooke et femme du blogueur Raif Badawi. « En tant que musulmane pacifique, j’insiste sur le fait que le voile ne vient pas de l’Islam et qu’il est un symbole de l’esclavage et de l’oppression des femmes. Arrêtez d’abuser des femmes avec des publicités aussi stupides », a-t-elle écrit sur Twitter.

Le député néodémocrate de Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie, Alexandre Boulerice, s’est néanmoins montré très critique de la position de M. Lisée. « Donc science et islam seraient incompatibles ? Alors que science et pas de signe religieux apparent de christianisme serait correct ? » a-t-il questionné. M. Lisée a répondu : « Tu crois que le Coran est fondé sur la science? La Bible? La Torah? Qu’une institution de haut savoir scientifique doit promouvoir leurs symboles ? »

Par courriel, la conseillère principale en relation avec les médias de HEC Montréal, Émilie Novales, a confirmé que la femme dans la publicité est une « étudiante au parcours international » et que l’institution accueille « un nombre croissant d’étudiants internationaux » chaque année. « Nous tenons à ce que tous les membres de notre communauté étudiante puissent être mis en valeur sur nos plateformes, reflétant toute notre diversité », ajoute-t-elle.

Source: La publicité de HEC Montréal provoque une nouvelle réaction

Will India hijab ruling be used for wider curbs on Islamic expression?

More on India’s hijab debates:

On Tuesday, a high court in the southern Indian state of Karnataka upheld a government orderthat had banned headscarves in classrooms, ruling that wearing them is not an integral part of religious practice in Islam.

The court’s decision and the hijab controversy are part of a volatile cultural debate in India over the place of Islam in a political environment that is becoming more and more dominated by Hindu nationalism.

The controversy over headscarves in Karnataka began in January after six female Muslim students at a college in the city of Udupi said they had been barred from attending classes because they were wearing hijabs.

On February 5, the Karnataka government issued an order banning clothes that “disturb equality, integrity and public order” in educational institutions. Several schools and colleges used this order to deny entry to Muslim girls wearing the hijab.

Karnataka then became the stage for a series of protests by Muslim students and counterprotests by Hindu students and activists. As demonstrations intensified and spread to other colleges and districts, schools were forced to temporarily close.

A group of female Muslim students eventually took the case to the state’s high court, seeking to overturn the government’s ruling.

‘Reasonable restriction’ on freedom of expression

After the high court rejected their appeal, the young women spearheading the hijab protests vowed to continue fighting their case in India’s Supreme Court.

Some of them have said they will not attend classes if they are not allowed to wear a hijab, even if it jeopardizes their education.

“The court has let us down and disappointed so many of us. The court is wrong in stating that the hijab isn’t essential to Islam,” a student from the city of Shimoga told DW.

In explaining its decision, the Karnataka high court said that the freedom of religion under India’s constitution is subject to certain limitations.

“We are of the considered opinion that wearing of the hijab by Muslim women does not make up an essential religious practice in Islamic faith,” the court ruled.

It added that the state has the right to require school uniforms, which amounts to a “reasonable restriction” on constitutional rights.

Legal scholars say the case has now taken on a larger dimension with the high court ruling over freedom of expression in India, where wearing religious symbols is widespread.

Although there is no central law regulating school uniforms in India, the Karnataka court ruling has raised fears over a precedent being set to prompt more states to issue similar restrictive dress codes for students.

What’s behind communal tensions in India’s Karnataka state?

Mihira Sood, a professor at Delhi’s National Law University, said the court’s decision did not provide guidelines for how the law can equally uphold principles of secularism enshrined in India’s constitution, which would apply to any religion.

“Students of other religions wear symbols that are not part of the uniform like turbans and tilaks [the mark worn by Hindus on the forehead],” Sood told DW.

She added the situation in Karnataka was linked to the Hindu-nationalist agenda of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has a governing majority in the state.

“We have already seen reports of similar restrictions in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere, and this will likely have an effect in several states. This is just the beginning,” Sood added.

BJP spokesperson Shazia Ilmi said the hijab was not part of religion, and that the party was doing a lot for empowerment of the Muslim women.

“The court verdict is in sync with the constitution. The Quran does not mandate wearing of hijab or headgear for Muslim women,” Ilmi told DW.

Is Indian law singling out Muslims?

Some activists say tensions over headscarves are part of a wider trend in India cracking down on its minority Muslim population since the Hindu-nationalist BJP came to power nearly eight years ago.

“This is a clear case of interference with the girls’ religious and fundamental rights. Issues like the hijab ban are very easy to polarize the entire community,” lawyer Mohammed Tahir, who is representing one group of petitioners in court, told DW.

Author and activist Farah Naqvi told DW that the hijab ruling is part of a wider agenda to drive away our Muslim culture.

“This is not a gender debate or about headscarves and veils … so many fundamental rights are at stake. All this could have been easily resolved if the schools had made a simple adjustment,” she said.

Muslim women say India’s secular constitution protects their right to wear a hijab

Mehbooba Mufti, the former chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir, said the court decision upholding the hijab ban is deeply disappointing.

“On one hand we talk about empowering women, yet we are denying them the right to a simple choice. It isn’t just about religion but the freedom to choose,” she said on Twitter.

In 1986, India’s Supreme Court upheld the right of three school children to remain silent while the Indian national anthem was sung. The children belonged to the Jehovah’s Witness, a Christian sect, and said singing the anthem was against their faith.

Their school expelled them, and the family filed an appeal, saying the expulsion was in violation of freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

India’s Supreme Court famously ruled that the school must readmit the children, arguing that their choice not to sing did not affect anyone else.

The girls affected by the hijab ruling now have said they will take their case to the Supreme Court and asked for an early hearing so a decision can be made in time for their exams.

Source: Will India hijab ruling be used for wider curbs on Islamic expression?

India court upholds a ban on hijab in schools and colleges

Of note:

An Indian court Tuesday upheld a ban on wearing hijab in class in the southern state of Karnataka, saying the Muslim headscarf is not an essential religious practice of Islam.

The high court in Karnataka state delivered the verdict after considering petitions filed by Muslim students challenging a government ban on hijabs that some schools and colleges have implemented in the last two months.

The dispute began in January when a government-run school in Karnataka’s Udupi district barred students wearing hijabs from entering classrooms, triggering protests by Muslims who said they were being deprived of their fundamental rights to education and religion. That led to counterprotests by Hindu students wearing saffron shawls, a color closely associated with that religion and favored by Hindu nationalists.

More schools in the state followed with similar bans and the state’s top court disallowed students from wearing hijab and any religious clothing pending a verdict.

Ahead of the verdict, the Karnataka government banned large gatherings for a week in state capital Bengaluru “to maintain public peace and order” and declared a holiday Tuesday in schools and colleges in Udupi.

The hijab is worn by many Muslim women to maintain modesty or as a religious symbol, often seen as not just a bit of clothing but something mandated by their faith.

Hijab restrictions have surfaced elsewhere, including France, which in 2004 banned them in schools. But in India, where Muslims make up 14% of the country’s 1.4 billion people, the hijab has historically been neither prohibited nor limited in public spheres. Women donning the headscarf is common across the country, which has religious freedom enshrined in its national charter with the secular state as a cornerstone.

Some rights activists have voiced concerns that the ban could increase Islamophobia. Violence and hate speech against Muslims have increased under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing Hindu nationalist party, which also governs Karnataka state.

Source: India court upholds a ban on hijab in schools and colleges

Poilievre pitches to new immigrants, as Brown attacks him over 2015 niqab ban bill

Of note:

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown and high-profile Conservative Pierre Poilievre spent Monday battling over a seven-year-old election promise to prohibit face coverings during citizenship ceremonies — a sign of what could be the makings of a tense rivalry between candidates in the Tory leadership race.

Brown, who launched his bid on Sunday, blasted longtimeOttawa-area MP Poilievre over his actions back in 2015 when the party promised to create a “barbaric cultural practices” tip line and require people’s faces to be visible during citizenship oaths.

The attack came as Poilievre spent the past few days meeting with cultural community leaders in the Greater Toronto Area and promising to cut red tape for immigrants wanting to access the necessary licences they need to work in regulated industries.Among those he met with were members of the Armenian, Muslim and Pakistani communities as well some of the party’s candidates from the area.

Regardless of who is chosen as leader Sept. 10, Conservatives know they must make inroads with immigrants and racialized Canadians if theyhope to pick up seats in the region as well as other major cities and suburbs, considered key to defeating three-term Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Poilievre pledged Monday to revive similar programs that were in place under the last Conservative leader who did well in communities of visible minorities: former prime minister Stephen Harper, at least prior to 2015.

He promised toincentivize provinces to require occupational licensing bodies to decide on an immigrant’s application within 60 days of receiving their paperwork, rather than forcing them to wait for months.

As well, Poilievre pitched offering small loans to immigrants who might need to take extra courses to gain a professional or trade licence to work in their respective field.

As Poilievre made these pledges, Brown, who is positioning himself as the candidate who stands for religious freedoms, released a statement saying the MP lacks credibility on any policy that impacts minority communities given his role in the Conservatives’ 2015 election campaign.

It was during that race when the party, then led by Harper, promised to create a tip line for so-called “barbaric cultural practices.” Conservatives at the time said it was meant to report things like forced marriage.

During that election, Poilievre was running for re-election as a candidate. He was also a member of Harper’s government when it introduced a bill banning people from wearing face coverings during citizenship ceremonies. That was ultimately struck down in court. The promise was also included in the party’s election campaign, when Harper also mused about possibly extending it to federal public servants.

Brown said Monday that Poilievre has never spoken out against these measures. The MP also has Jenni Byrne on his team, who was the party’s national campaign manager in 2015.

“This is the same campaign which platformed those two abhorrent policies, and lost the Conservatives the 2015 general election,” Brown’s statement read.

“Even if he attempts to distance himself from his silence today, it would be a hollow gesture in an insincere bid to gain votes.”

Poilievre responded Monday by calling Brown a “liar,” accusing him of mischaracterizing what Harper was doing.

“There was no niqab ban,” he said in a statement released on social media.

“I would never support that, nor did Mr. Harper. What Mr. Harper proposed was that a person’s face be visible while giving oaths at citizenship ceremonies.”

Poilievre, whose statement didn’t address the past proposal of a “barbaric cultural practices” tip line, added he would continue to support immigration and equality.

In response, National Council of Canadians CEO Mustafa Farooq tweeted that “leadership requires accountability” and pointed out some of Poilievre’s fellow MPs have apologized for what happened in 2015.

Among those is Edmonton MP Tim Uppal, a co-chair on Poilievre’s campaign, who has apologized for his role as a minister in promoting the ban on niqabs during citizenship ceremonies.Before the leadership race, Uppal said the party was still dealing with the fallout from racialized communities because of the 2015 campaign.

A post-mortem from the Conservatives’ 2021 election loss submitted in January came to a similar finding, according to three sources who spoke to The Canadian Press on the condition of anonymity.

Melissa Lantsman, a newly elected Ontario MP who is also supporting Poilievre in the race, shared on social media last fall that while she was stood in favour of banning the niqab during citizenship ceremonies in 2015, her “view has since evolved.”

Michael Diamond, a campaign strategist who, among other campaigns, worked on Peter MacKay’s 2020 Conservative leadership bid, said Brown’s attack over the issue and targeting of Byrne is a “proxy” attack on Harper, who is highly respected among the membership.

“It seems like folly to me to attack the last campaign of the man who remains the most popular figure in this party.”

He added it’s still early days in the race and cautioned that the debates playing out between the campaigns and on social media were occurring in an “echo chamber.”

Source: Poilievre pitches to new immigrants, as Brown attacks him over 2015 niqab ban bill

Hijab controversy and multiculturalism: Lessons from Canada

One Indian perspective, further to my earlier post on the Essential Religious Practice (ERP) India: Why is Karnataka HC deciding if the hijab is an ‘essential religious practice’ in Islam?:

India has traditionally been recognised as a country where “unity in diversity” reigns supreme. Food, festivals, attire, language, religion, and other aspects of culture are all diverse throughout. In his classic poem, Bharat Tirtha (Indian pilgrimage), Rabindranath Tagore echoed the same philosophy where the fundamental belief underlying the definition of Indianness is its assimilative, cosmopolitan, and compassionate nature. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote about this diversity extensively in his book, The Discovery of India. Winston Churchill had commented: “India is not a country or a nation; it is rather a continent inhabited by many nations.”

Although it is true that there is no explicit provision in the Constitution of India recognizing this multiculturalism, it is spread across implicitly. The Preamble, the Equality principle, the right to Freedom of Religion, protection of Cultural and Educational rights of the minorities, recognition of 22 official languages under Schedule VIII – all bear testimony of the same.

Unfortunately, we have been forced to believe in the notion of ‘uniformity’ in the recent years – the imposition of one culture, one religion, and so on. As the hijab debate rages across the country in the name of school ‘uniform’, I prefer to look into the matter through the lens of the multicultural ethos, rather than the Essential Religious Practice (ERP) test. And here I will be speaking about Canada, which has placed a strong focus on equality and inclusion for all of its people.

With 37 million inhabitants, Canada is the world’s second-largest country geographically. It is ranked 16th in the Human Development Index (India is ranked 131st) and has one of the fastest growth rates of any G7 country. While ethnic Canadians account for 32.3 percent of the population, other prominent ethnic groups include English, Scottish, French, Irish, German, and Chinese. Between 1971 and 2011, immigration expanded in Canada as a result of the modification of the Immigration Act. On one hand, 4 percent of the population is aboriginal; on the other hand, 60 percent of new immigrants are from Asia, mainly China and India.

While the majority of Canadians (67 percent) are Christians, a significant proportion (24 percent) declares that they have no religious connection. Muslims account for 3.2 percent of the minority, while Sikhs account for 1.4 percent. Sikh migration began in the early twentieth century, and they now wield significant political power. Notwithstanding the fact that Sikhs make up 1.7 percent of the Indian population, just 13 Sikh MPs have been elected to India’s 543-seat Lok Sabha, compared to 18 in Canada’s 338-seat House of Commons.

Canada is a liberal democracy having a Charter of Rights and Freedoms under the Constitution Act of 1982 (analogous to ‘Part III: Fundamental Rights’ of our Constitution) where it is explicitly noted that the Charter “shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians” (Section 27).

The judiciary in the country has jealously preserved this heritage while upholding the Charter rights for various minority groups.

Similar to the current hijab controversy, an orthodox Sikh student once intended to wear a kirpan to school. The school and his family agreed that he would seal the kirpan in his clothing while at school. However, the school board’s council of commissioners objected that he could not wear it to school because bringing dangerous objects to school was against the school’s code of conduct.

In Multani v. Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys (2006),the Supreme Court (SC) ruled that the council’s decision infringed Multani’s religious freedom. School board members failed to demonstrate that a complete prohibition is a reasonable limit on religious freedom. The kirpan had never been involved in any violent incidents at school and there was no evidence that it was a symbol of violence. The total ban of wearing kirpans in schools ignores the value of respecting minorities and tolerance in Canada’s diverse culture.

Gobinder Randhawa, a Sikh immigrant from India and former Ontario Sikhs and Gurdwara Council president, tells Ashleigh Stewart of Global News that turbans were uncommon when he arrived in Toronto in 1972. Toronto’s public transit agency, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), faced confusion over its dress code after he applied for a job there. TTC modified the uniform code to accommodate him. He spent 31 years working there.

Canada has given equal powers to exercise one’s religion to all sects and cultures and diverse religious ethnicities. Stewart reports instances of Syrian immigrants narrating as to how the country has allowed them carry on their Islamic lives, e.g., school principals arranging prayer halls for their kids.

In another instance, a lady who had been sexually assaulted was testified during her accused attackers’ preliminary inquiry. She was ordered by the judge to remove her niqab, a head scarf covering her face except the eyes. She argued that doing so would violate her religious freedom.

In R. v. N.S. (2012), the SC ruled that if wearing the niqab does not significantly impair trial fairness, the witness may do so. The case highlights the need for public institutions to accommodate religious differences as much as possible while upholding other Charter-protected rights and freedoms.

Earlier in R. v. Big M Drug Mart (1985), the police charged a store for violating the Lord’s Day Act because it refused to close on Sundays. That law prohibited conducting business on Sunday as it reflected the Christian tradition of reserving Sunday for rest. The SC found that the Act violated the Charter’s fundamental freedom of religion by forcing all Canadians to follow one religion – Christianity.

Quite surprisingly, unlike ours, the Canadian Constitution allows suspension of the Charter rights and freedoms even without an emergency being declared (Section 33). Yet the federal Parliament has never utilised this power till date. No wonder that Canada has remained a preferred destination for many Indians migrating abroad in search of prosperity. They have truly nurtured the philosophy of “live and let live”.

Hijabs (or kirpans) did not compromise the sanctity of the education but the nefarious acts that followed certainly did. The fervour and severity with which the hijab issue has being tackled, I wish the concerned individuals had responded in a same manner in relation to the quality of education imparted in those institutions in Karnataka and elsewhere. Our educational institutions would have been substantially superior.

When people are forced to refrain from selling or eating non-vegetarian food in the name of religion (read here), to remove hijab, and to abandon religious norms of offering prayers, we are not only interfering with individual choices/freedoms, we are also denying the diversity that exists in this country and embarking on an elusive quest of uniformity. We yearn for a “universal civil code” for all religions, when there is no uniformity of civil customs among Hindus across the country! We should aspire to be equal rather than identical.

Multiculturalism has always been a source of pride and strength for us. For heaven’s sake, let’s not demolish it, regardless of the Karnataka High Court’s verdict!

Source: Hijab controversy and multiculturalism: Lessons from Canada

Wells: And now, the inevitable Bill 21 fight

Usual insightful column by Paul Wells:

Here’s one measure of how little Building Back Better we’re getting done here in the nation’s capital: MPs from different parties and perspectives are having an interesting conversation about important matters. But it’s entirely off-book. It’s spontaneous, the leaders of the various parties didn’t ask for it, and it’s pretty clear they desperately wish it weren’t happening. In Ottawa, saying what you think is an act of rebellion.

The week’s topic is, of course, Quebec’s Bill 21, which forbids hiring public servants, including teachers, who dress incorrectly (“The persons listed in Schedule II are prohibited from wearing religious symbols in the exercise of their functions.”) The bill was introduced in March of 2019 and passed into law soon after. Federal party leaders fielded questions about it in debates during the 2019 and 2021 elections. Each time, Quebec’s premier François Legault got angry at the people who asked the questions. So did federal party leaders, who pay ever-growing hordes of witless staffers to tell them how to move and talk and who cannot for the life of them understand that the rest of us aren’t also conscripts in that effort.

Anyway the inevitable happened. This week news broke that a Grade 3 teacher in the bucolic Quebec town of Chelsea, a stone’s throw from Ottawa, was pulled from class for wearing a hijab. Here’s how it played in one early story: nameless teacher reassigned to “another function” outside the class, school officials shtum on details, shocked community hanging green ribbons.

A chain reaction ensued. Kyle Seeback, a Brampton Conservative MP, kicked it off by tweeting, “I cannot in good conscience keep silent on this anymore… Bill 21 has to be opposed. In court, in the house of commons and in the streets.” Jamie Schmale, Chris Warkentin and Mark Strahl tweeted their agreement.

Seeback’s conscience seems to have gnawed at him after he retweeted a Wednesday-night tweet from the Globe’s Robyn Urback wondering why Catherine McKenna, the former Liberal environment minister, now calls Law 21’s application “appalling” but didn’t, at the time, contradict Justin Trudeau’s milder language in the 2019 and ’21 campaigns. Good for Seeback, actually, for amplifying some snark aimed at a Liberal and then realizing it applied to him too. Soon McKenna and the Conservative MPs had company among Liberals still in caucus: Alexandra Mendes, Salma Zahid, Iqra Khalid, Marc Garneau. Finally a sitting cabinet minister, Marc Miller, called the law’s application “cowardly.” There is also a clip of Chrystia Freeland, the federal Minister of Careful What You Wish For, saying as close to nothing as she can possibly say, a recurring highlight of many recent debates.

I don’t like Bill 21 either. It’s based on silly reasoning—“the state” must have no religion, so nobody who works for the state may be seen to have any religion. This is like saying the state has no particular height, so public servants must be required to hover above the ground. Somewhere around here there’s an old column I wrote patiently explaining this logic and its heritage in the receding role of the Catholic church in Quebec society, a column some of my Toronto colleagues still enjoy mocking, but there’s a difference between understanding the argument and buying it. On a list of the top, say, thousand problems facing modern Quebec, “teachers in head scarves” would not appear. And one of the most obvious things we can say about this law is that the costs it imposes—in personal freedom, economic opportunity, social ostracism—is essentially never borne by people named Tremblay or Côté or Wells. Somehow the burden seems to land reliably on people named—well, in the current instance, on Fatemeh Anvari. About whom more in a moment.

I have also never felt that Bill 21 reveals some universal moral failing of “Quebec.” Every criticism I can level against this law has been levelled, many times, by Quebecers, including several of the Liberal MPs who ran out of patience yesterday; the Quebec Liberal and Québec Solidaire parties, which between them won more votes than Legault’s party did in 2018; an impressive selection of municipal politicians and commentators in, mostly, Montreal; and Judge Marc-André Blanchard of Quebec Superior Court, whose ruling struck down parts of Bill 21 and exclaimed his helplessness with regard to the rest: he plainly doesn’t like the thing, but Legault’s use of the constitution’s “notwithstanding” clause protects most of the law from legal challenge or judicial invalidation. Solid majorities in Quebec have supported the law in polls, but I’m not sure how long that will last, and since the law’s Charter-proofing provisions must be renewed every five years in the National Assembly, I’m not sure the law itself will last long either. I reject the notion that only Quebecers may have an opinion on the thing, because of course everyone can have an opinion on anything. But the conversation among Quebecers is plenty multifaceted already.

A few points of context. First, the provisions of the law, as they apply to the Western Quebec School Board which employs Fatemeh Anvari, have already been struck down. Minority-language education rights are notwithstanding-proof, and Judge Blanchard did to the provisions regarding English school boards what he plainly wished he could do to the whole law. Legault’s government appealed the ruling, and under Quebec law the provisions remain in place pending appeal, but Legault will lose the appeal and by next year, there may be no remaining barrier to teachers in hijabs teaching in Quebec’s English-language schools. This doesn’t help the rest of the province, at least not immediately, but it sets up two cases that parents will be able to observe and compare. Which is a ball that can bounce in many different ways over time.

Second, in interviews Anvari is plainly rattled by a situation she should not be in. But neither is she fired nor banished to the furthest reaches of her school’s steam-pipe trunk distribution venue. As the Lowdown’s excellent story notes, she’s been assigned to lead “a literacy project for all students [that] will target inclusion and awareness of diversity.” This is not as good as simply letting her teach the curriculum would have been, if the law had permitted it, but it shows considerable wit. Again, in a complex society, citizens respond in ways governments often don’t intend and wouldn’t prefer. Governments often don’t take that news well.

Third: those calling on governments to do something, now including members of the federal governing caucus, are sometimes short of ideas about what, precisely, to do. Federal lawyers in a court challenge could make no argument that hasn’t already been made—and, largely, rejected by the frustrated Judge Blanchard. Short of reviving the obsolete powers of reservation and disallowance, a step even Pierre Trudeau declined to take against even Bill 101, there’s not much a federal intervention could add.

Is there therefore no point in simply talking, or simply sending federal lawyers to say what lawyers for civil-society groups have already said? No, I think there’s a point, in that it brings government’s actions more closely in line with what are obviously the opinions of the people who compose the government. (Note that there isn’t a single Liberal MP tweeting, “Guys, Bill 21 is great!”) A reduction in the amount of hypocrisy in a system is always welcome and lately well overdue. But as a practical matter, the feds can’t do much to change the situation.

Finally, less important but still worth mentioning: When four Conservative MPs tweeted within minutes about their renewed love of freedom, it was hard to escape the suspicion that there’s something else going on. Perhaps this: those Conservatives are not, by and large, conspicuous Erin O’Toole fans, and many come from ridings where much of the Conservative voter base is spitting mad at O’Toole for perceived softness on vaccine mandates. When Seeback talks about opposing Bill 21 “in the street,” that sure sounds like an echo of the way a lot of people opposed vaccine mandates. MPs who can’t give their voters much satisfaction on the latter are probably grateful for a chance to blow off some steam on the former. That’s not to dismiss or rebut the Bill 21 Freedom Four; it’s just to note that motives are often mixed or additive.

Here’s the thing: in a liberal democracy you can’t keep a cork in everyone’s mouth forever. You shouldn’t try. It’s been fun watching the leaderships of three federal political parties try to deny simple human feelings over an inherently emotional issue. But the fun’s over. Now citizens are going to act like citizens. Always a scary moment for communications professionals.

Raj: Erin O’Toole denounces religious persecution abroad. Why can’t he do it in Canada?

Good question. And other political leaders need to step up as well:

“I cannot in good conscience keep silent on this anymore,” Conservative MP Kyle Seeback tweeted Thursday morning. “This is an absolute disgrace. It’s time politicians stood up for what’s right. Bill 21 has to be opposed. In court, in the house of commons and in the streets.#bill21mustgo #cdnpoli

It was an unusual statement from a Conservative MP, and a risky one. This is not Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s position on Quebec’s controversial law, which bars individuals who wear religious symbols from holding certain jobs in public institutions. Since his election as leader, O’Toole has defended Quebec’s right to enact such discriminatory legislation. After his first meeting with Quebec Premier François Legault, back in September 2020, O’Toole pledged not to challenge Bill 21 in court. “We need a government that respects provincial autonomy and provincial legislatures,” he told reporters.

For the MP for Dufferin—Caledon to go out on such a limb publicly, amid a climate of fear and retribution (O’Toole’s team has threatened caucus expulsions to those who don’t toe the party line), is commendable. Behind closed doors, Tory MPs tell me Seeback has been pitching to caucus and to the party leadership that a strong position denouncing Bill 21 is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart political thing to do.

While his pleas resonate with some of his colleagues, they don’t appear to have nudged his leader.

But Seeback, who declined an interview request, is right. Opposing Bill 21 is a great wedge against the Liberals on an issue where the Tories desperately need to rebrand, and in an area of the country where they need to win.

The Conservatives have a GTA problem and a visible-minority problem. Out of the 56 ridings in the Greater Toronto Area, the Conservatives hold six (although all but two are located on the periphery), while the Liberals have 50. It wasn’t always this way. In 2011, Stephen Harper found his majority in the GTA, sweeping the ethnically diverse areas of Brampton and Mississauga.

But over the past decade, the Tories pursued policies that alienated many of these communities. From immigration minister (now Alberta Premier) Jason Kenney’s niqab ban during citizenship ceremonies, to the barbaric practices snitch-line, to leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch’s values test, to the Tories fervent opposition to M-103, a motion denouncing Islamophobia.

In 2015, Brampton and Mississauga showed Harper the door. Seeback lost his seat in Brampton West. The same happened in 2019, and again in 2021.

Source: Erin O’Toole denounces religious persecution abroad. Why can’t he do it in Canada?

Quebec teacher removed from classroom because she wears a hijab

Hopefully, personal stories like this can shift public discussion in Quebec although doesn’t seem likely:

A teacher in Chelsea, Que., has been removed from her Grade 3 classroom because the hijab she wears contravenes the province’s law on state secularism, sparking an outcry among local families and a range of Canadian politicians who have denounced the legislation as “discriminatory.”

Fatemeh Anvari had been teaching language arts at Chelsea Elementary School since late October. She was reassigned to another role focusing on literacy and inclusion in early December, when the Western Quebec School Board became aware that her presence in class violated provincial law, interim chair Wayne Daly said.

Quebec’s Bill 21 has been in place since June, 2019. It bars a range of public servants in authority roles, including teachers, from wearing visible religious symbols.

Although Ms. Anvari has become a focal point in a long-running debate about religion in Quebec’s public sphere, she said she has been heartened by the response from community members and wants to use this moment to raise awareness about the need to express oneself in the workplace.

“I was sad, but at the same time I find it empowering to get so much support,” she said in an interview. “This isn’t about me so much. It’s a human issue.”

The 27-year-old has worn the hijab since she was young. She previously taught English in Iran and began supply-teaching at the Western Quebec School Board in March. She believed Bill 21 didn’t apply to English schools, and no one raised possible legal issues with her until recently, she said.

“There were no comments, there were no issues, there was no hostility.”

In her new role with the school, she will still be interacting with students, speaking to them about the value of diversity and inclusion. She feels it’s a testament to the board’s support that they offered her the job.

“I think the board is doing this initiative to spread awareness,” she said.

Parents and students have been protesting the decision to remove Ms. Anvari by tying green ribbons to a fence outside the school. Nicole Redvers said her eight-year-old daughter was deeply upset when she learned she would be losing a teacher she loved.

“She said, ‘Mum, she’s only wearing a scarf!’” Ms. Redvers recalled.

It remains unclear how Ms. Anvari was hired with the secularism law in place. Mr. Daly said it “may have been an oversight.”

In April, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) won a court ruling exempting it from Bill 21 because the law violated the English-language community’s rights. But the provincial government appealed, and the restrictions remained in place. In November, the EMSB was denied a stay of the law while the appeal proceeds.

Federal parties have generally been cautious about denouncing the law, which is popular in Quebec, but Ms. Anvari’s removal caused outrage across the political spectrum. In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office said “nobody in Canada should ever lose their job because of what they wear or their religious beliefs,” adding that “Quebeckers are defending their rights through the courts.”

“I think it’s cowardly,” said Marc Miller, a Liberal MP and the Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister. “It’s disheartening and it’s picking on someone vulnerable.“

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole offered a milder response, calling it “an issue that is best left for Quebeckers to decide.” But one member of his caucus, Ontario MP Kyle Seeback, lashed out at the law on Twitter.

“I cannot in good conscience keep silent on this anymore,” he wrote. “This is an absolute disgrace. It’s time politicians stood up for what’s right.”

The Western Quebec School Board, which serves anglophones and opposes Bill 21, has said it had no choice but to comply with the law when it realized Ms. Anvari was teaching in a hijab.

“It was the correct ruling under Bill 21, we cannot have this teacher in our school board if they will not comply with Bill 21,” Mr. Daly said. “She had decided that she would not comply with Bill 21, and in not complying that is justification for termination of a contract.”

The interim chair added that Bill 21 hurts the school board by denying it teachers during a labour shortage, and that the need to apply the law has left the community “outraged.”

“It doesn’t matter what nation you’re from or what race they belong to. If you’re part of that community, you’re part of that community.”

In Quebec City, several politicians put the responsibility for the situation on Ms. Anvari herself. Parti Québécois secularism critic Pascal Bérubé said that she “tried to make a statement wearing a hijab.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-quebec-teacher-removed-from-classroom-because-she-wears-a-hijab/

Europe’s Hijab Test: War of the Headscarves and Death of Multiculturalism

Of note:

In mid-July, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that private employers in the EU can ban employees from wearing religious symbols, including headscarves, in order to present an image of “political, philosophical, and religious neutrality” in the workplace. The verdict reaffirmed a 2017 CJEU ruling and highlights longstanding tensions over multiculturalism in Europe. In particular, it raises the question of whether there is a place for visibly Muslim women in European public life.

I have spent the last several months interviewing Muslim women, many of them citizens and residents of European countries, about their portrayal in the media and perception of belonging in their countries. While many reported similar experiences of ostracism or harassment, the European women, particularly those who choose to wear the hijab (head covering), told me time and again: “I feel like I don’t exist.” The hijab is more than a religious symbol to those who wear it. Muslim women cover their hair out of tradition, to maintain a connection to their cultural heritage, or for reasons of modesty. Several young European women I spoke to explained that they wear the hijab despite protests from their immigrant families, who do not want them to face undue scrutiny or discrimination at work.

But their choice carries a high personal cost. The rampant European misperception of the hijab as a symbol of a supposedly misogynistic Islamic culture has made women who wear one feel like faceless, nameless “victims” who must be saved, instead of empowered individuals making a personal decision. “It’s frustrating, because [the media] always brings out [sic] the male members of the family,” one of them, Sama, said in a message she sent me from Italy. “It’s like, ‘did your father force you to make this choice that I actually made?’” Likewise, Lama, a French-Algerian woman now living outside France, laments the phenomenon of “white men in the media debating whether we should have the hijab.” The problem, she says, is that “it’s never about the objective garment, it’s about what the garment symbolizes [to them].”

The CJEU’s recent ruling resurfaces tensions between the right to freedom of religion and Europeans’ increasing discomfort regarding the visible face of Islam in the region. Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights sets a high bar for limiting the manifestation of freedom of religion. But the CJEU’s 2017 and 2021 rulings appear to attach greater weight to the concept of overall “neutrality” and, in the case of its recent decision, the effect on others – an issue that already weighs heavily on many Muslim women’s minds. Several women I spoke to described going through a draining mental exercise before leaving their homes – what I call the “friendly enough” test. “Muslim women look in the mirror in the morning and think, ‘do I look friendly? Do I look approachable?’” Maha, a journalist, explained. And it is not only men whose judgment these women worry about. Khadija, a young French-Algerian woman, confessed that she once stopped to put on red lipstick before going to an interview for a babysitting job. “I told them I wore the hijab ahead of time. I don’t know why I did that, preparing them for me,” she said. “I took out my lipstick and put it on so that [the mother] can see I am French, [that] I am not a terrorist.”

These psychological strains underscore the agonizing choice forced upon European Muslim women today between their faith and identity on one hand, and their nationality on the other. Whereas most European girls can dream of pursuing the career of their choice, Muslim girls in Europe face a demoralizing caveat: “but you cannot wear the hijab.” In a post-#MeToo world where young women are increasingly taught to be empowered, Europe’s Muslim women are being held back by legislation and told that their very appearance is problematic. Khadija went on to tell me that the experience of removing her hijab for a job when she was 19 left her feeling denigrated and ashamed. “It made me feel like I am nothing,” she said. “I am not the same as everyone else. I am a little bit lower.” She went on to ask, rhetorically, “What gives you the right to do that?”

Despite Europe’s stated values of emancipation, freedom, and self-sufficiency, the dearth of female Muslim voices in the European public debate over the hijab leaves many young women with little hope that the conversation will change. In a stark display of hypocrisy, some of the European politicians who decry Islam for being repressive and anti-feminist champion laws that threaten to strip away Muslim women’s agency. “Muslim women exist and have things to say when the subject concerns them,” Soumaya, 15, told me. “We are not objects, we think, we feel, we have free will, we are strong and intelligent and, above all, capable.” But, she said, “the media does not want to recognize that. It’s a pity.”

Rather than asking whether Islam is liberal enough to belong in Europe, the more relevant question today appears to be whether Europe is liberal enough to accept its female Muslim citizens – regardless of their attire – in public life. The debate will no doubt continue in Europe’s courtrooms. In the meantime, the lives and livelihoods of the region’s female Muslim population hang in the balance. As one young woman said to me resignedly, “I have to wait for a woman who doesn’t wear the hijab or a man to fight for me, because right now I don’t exist. I am no one.”

‘Europe’s Hijab Test’ – Commentary by Jasmine M. El-Gamal – Project Syndicate.

Source: Europe’s Hijab Test: War of the Headscarves and Death of Multiculturalism