Veiled Intent

Veiled girl

G&M File photo, Fred Ernst/Associated Press

Again in the space of a few weeks, citing “pedagogical” necessity, another student in Québec has been denied access to government language classes unless she removes her niqab.

The government of Québec has even put forward a bill that would require anyone who wears face coverings to remove them if they want to work in the public sector, to do business with government officials or to receive government services.

Disappointingly, federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff sees this as trying to strike a good Canadian balance between reasonable accommodation and respect for religious freedom.  Many Canadians seem to agree, and, well, it’s Québec anyway, so why worry about it here?

I must respectfully, but stridently, differ.  There’s no “pedagogical purpose” served here, even if that would have been a valid excuse in the first place, and in broader terms when accessing public or other services (barring very rare cases where matching the individual’s face to a photograph is essential) there’s no good reason to need to see the face either of the person delivering or receiving those services.  There is no “reasonable accommodation” here, no “balance”, and no respect whatsoever for religious freedom.

Yes, it’s Québec, and far away, but encroachments on religious freedoms, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, or indeed any of our civil rights, wherever in Canada, are the proper business of every Canadian, everywhere.

This policy, this attitude, is not reasonable.  It’s not fair.  It is an affront to the dignity of the particular women involved, and by extension, to all of us.  It is ever-so-thinly-veiled religious intolerance and bigotry.  It’s probably not constitutional, and it is just, simply, wrong.  Reasonable and fair men and women throughout Canada must stand up and say so.

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