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95% of Quebecers support Niqab ban

March 27, 2010

The Quebec government’s proposed Bill 94 would force women who wear the niqab (face veil that shows only the eyes) to remove it when receiving government services as long as this is considered necessary for “communication purposes”*. The law applies to government offices, schools, universities, hospitals, child-care centres, etc. and pretty much leaves it up to each organization to decide what is required for “communication purposes”.  As  Don MacPherson points out, taken literally (which is kinda the point with laws), Bill 94 would mean that a women whose religious beliefs require her to wear a niqab could be barred from walking up to a government counter to ask for an income tax form. And the bill is so sloppily written that she could also be legally ignored by an ambulance attendant if her injuries were not life-threatening. And an Angus Reid poll shows that 75% of Canadians and 95% of Quebecers think that’s just fine.

Let’s start with the fact that I have been living in Montreal- a city with a very large Muslim population- since 1998 and I have never seen a woman in any public place wearing a niqab. Ever. And since the rest of Quebec is not exactly brimming with ethnic diversity, I would guess that nobody else in the province who answered the poll has either. But that didn’t stop them from strongly approving (83%) or approving the measure (12%), with a “not sure” contingent of only 1%.

But we are the province of Hérouxville, of course. In 2007, the municipal government of this village of 1,338 Québecois pur laine (rough translation: “real”,  i.e. white, French-speaking, Catholic) drafted a code of beliefs warning potential immigrants that they would not be allowed to stone or burn their wives alive within the jurisdiction of their village. [I really, really wish I were making this up.] There is not a single immigrant in the village and not even a single person of colour, but they felt they had to get the message out to the hordes of foreign Arabs who would eventually flock to the  tiny farming community which is, after all, on the route to the Festival Western Saint-Tite (pronounced Saint Tit).

I should also point out that I am an atheist and no fan of organized religion in any form. I wish women didn’t have to wear the niqab too. Religions that restrict the rights of women and apply different standards for their behaviour make me deeply uncomfortable. It’s one of the reasons that I am not a Catholic any more.

But I am stunned by the hypocrisy of a law to protect secular society coming from the Quebec National Assembly, which has a statue of a doe-eyed, bleeding Jesus nailed to a cross above the President’s chair. And 58% of this same population wanting to keep it there.

This is not a law about who should be allowed to work for the government, about who gets to be a teacher or a garbage collector or a nurse. It’s about who gets to receive these services. And if we take away the cases where you have to check someone’s identity for any reason, should we give a shit whether we can see someone’s face? I mean, I have stood in line to ask for an income tax form and I can’t help wondering if the niqab is not a hell of a lot easier to deal with than the facial tattoos, gigantic ear-piercing holes, and the rotting teeth that government employees have to look at every day.

This issue is controversial and complex. Should we insist on seeing someone’s face at the airport and the voting booth? I would say yes. At the post office? I would say no. In a classroom or hospital waiting room? I really don’t know. So I can’t agree with any legislative initiative on the matter that is so sloppy and unclear. But 95% of my fellow Quebecers do. The Apocalypse thanks them for their support.

The Apocalypse: 6.5

Humanity: 6

* Actual text explaining the intent of the law, which is to forbid accommodations that would allow women to wear the niqab when receiving government services: It is stated that the practice whereby a personnel member of the Administration or an institution and a person to whom services are being provided by the Administration or the institution show their face during the delivery of services is a general practice, and that if an accommodation involves an adaptation of that practice and reasons of security, communication or identification warrant it, the accommodation must be denied.

  1. Who wrote that? I bet 93% of the respondents didn’t understand what the questioner meant, and weren’t willing to ask for clarification. It was also most likely posed to the respondents in an alarmist manner. I can sort of understand why it would be useful to have niqab removed in a hospital situation. Facial expressions are sometimes key to determining how a patient is responding to pain and/or treatment. Controversial and complex issue, indeed.

  2. Unfortunately, the tortured prose cited above is actually from the proposed law rather than the survey question, which was much clearer. We’re just that Xenophobic…

  3. Wow. Is secession still on the table? (I’m being serious here, not my usual wiseass self.)

    • Sadly, the worst elements in this issue are… well… us. I am thinking about individually separating from Quebec and declaring my own personal sovereignty. “Vive la Sharon libre!”

  4. mummaboox2 permalink

    I think you would make a wise and benevolent ruler. Do you have a crown? You must have a crown to be taken seriously. And a very large scepter with which to bonk ill-wishers on the head.

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