Quebec face-coverings ban leaves Muslims fearful: ‘Life will get harder’
Warda Naili was in tears Wednesday as Quebec passed a controversial law dubbed the “religious neutrality bill.”
Naili, a niqab-wearing Muslim woman who lives in Montreal, cried knowing things were about to get worse.
“I cried because it will affect my life, and the lives of other women too,” she told Global News.
“We already have difficulties when we go outside. With this law, life will get harder.”
The law, passed by the province’s Liberal government, requires residents giving and receiving services to do so with their faces uncovered — services such as taking the bus, or borrowing a library book.
The law has been condemned by politicians and advocates, who say it directly discriminates against Muslim women. Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has defended it, saying it’s necessary for communication, identification and security reasons.
Naili is already a frequent target of discrimination. She has numerous tales of enduring racial slurs and even instances of being spit at and pushed in public.
“Many things happen when I just want to go outside and live my life like everyone.”
WATCH: Quebec passes religious neutrality bill
When asked what things will be like now, she pauses, then says: “The only thing I can say is, I will be a prisoner.”
Naili has health problems which prevent her from working, but she feels especially worried for niqab-wearing women who have jobs.
“I’m worried for these sisters because they need the public transportation,” she says. “Imagine they have to take two buses to reach the place, the first bus driver accepts her, the second refuses her. What will happen?”
What will happen is still unclear. On Wednesday, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre raised the many questions the city’s public transit system is now grappling with.
“What does it mean? We have niqab police as bus drivers?” Coderre asked. “Will we refuse to provide them (women wearing face coverings) services if they are freezing with their children?”
Adding to the confusion, a spokesman for the union representing Montreal bus drivers, ticket takers, and subway employees said it isn’t interested in enforcing the law.
But whether or not those with their face covered will be allowed on a bus in just one concern arising from Quebec’s law.
Alia Hogben, the executive director of the Canadian Council for Muslim Women (CCMW), told Global News telling women how to dress in itself is troubling.
“We’re against it in Saudi Arabia and in Iran. Whether you cover a woman or uncover you have no right to do this. It’s up to the individual woman to decide how to show her religiosity.”
Hogben says the organization has received dozens of calls in the last days, with many Muslim women concerned they will be targeted with hate crimes now.
“Muslim women are concerned. [The government] thinks it is only attacking niqabi women, but there is a spillover. It affects hijabi women as well.”
Hogben explained that all Muslims — those who wear religious symbols and those who don’t — will fear for their safety now.
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The safety of Muslims in Quebec and in the rest of Canada has been a concern, especially in the aftermath of January’s Quebec City mosque shooting. Hogben said she was surprised Couillard, who was so supportive at the time, could support this law just months later.
“This has nothing to do with security,” she said, noting that Quebec has an election coming up in about one year and it’s likely a political move.
Whatever may have triggered Quebec’s Liberal government to pass this law, its support outside the province is not as strong.
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On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated he doesn’t support the new rules, but stopped short of promising federal intervention on any level.
“You cannot be a free society and say what women should wear or should not wear … It’s a question of respect for individual choice,” Trudeau said in French.
Premier Kathleen Wynne noted Ontario and Quebec have a very close working relationship, but on this issue, they fundamentally disagree. She added that every citizen should be able to live their lives and practice their beliefs without discrimination and without fear.
Living without the fear of discrimination is a larger concern for the Muslim community as of late, with a June report from Statistics Canada noting that reported hate crimes against the religious group have jumped recently.
The number of police-reported hate crimes targeting Muslims in Canada more than tripled between 2012 and 2015. In 2015, police across the country recorded 159 hate crimes targeted at Muslims, up from 45 in 2012, representing an increase of 253 per cent.
That’s why the National Council of Canadian Muslims has called the legislation discriminatory and dangerous.
“By tabling this discriminatory legislation, the Quebec government is advancing a dangerous political agenda on the backs of minorities, while pandering to bigoted populism instead of practicing principled governance,” said the organization’s executive director, Ihsaan Gardee, said in a press release.
The organization added that the new rules violate Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But it’s too soon to say whether the law will be struck down, or deemed unconstitutional.
— With files from Global News and The Canadian Press
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