Editorial: Quebec and the veil: people can wear what they want

In a faint echo of France’s ban against Muslim children wearing face veils in schools, a woman in Quebec has launched a human rights complaint against the province’s order that she remove her niqab in French class.

The case comes, of course, as Quebec has grappled with the issue of reasonable accommodation of minorities in recent years. In this instance, the school the woman was attending, CEGEP de Saint-Laurent, says it tried to accede to the woman’s requests.

But in the end, the province decided, she had to remove the niqab in order to learn French, particularly since teachers felt they needed to see her face to correct her enunciation.

It’s an interesting case, but officials are in the wrong. Learning a language may in some cases require watching the lips but not necessarily so. Muslims around the world wear veils of different types, and people understand them just fine, so it’s a stretch to say that the woman had to remove her niqab to be successful.

At the same time, comments about the issue have revealed some of the attitudes behind the case. One report, for example, quoted a Muslim women’s rights activist saying that Canada isn’t an Islamic republic. Wearing the veil, of course, has nothing to do with that issue. It’s simply a choice some women make that reflects their personal religious beliefs.

It’s hard to believe, in fact, that the situation ever had to be a public concern. Media reports have referenced other problems, such as claims that the woman had asked male students to move away from her. But that’s beside the point. The issue at hand is what the woman was wearing, not how she interacted with her classmates.

On the face of it, the case appears to be a no-brainer. Other facts may come out to put it in a different light, but so far one group, speaking in a Canadian Press report, has framed the issue in the most rational way. “In Quebec, people have the right to wear what they want,” Canadian Muslim Forum spokeswoman Kathy Malas said.
- Glenn Kauth

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