Fatima Ahmad was entering the Montreal Metro at Charlevoix Station on the green line when she says a man tried to rip off her niqab.
“”I was about to go to the Metro when I saw people coming out of the Metro, and one person was coming towards me,” she told Global News.
She says he also hit her in the chest then ran across the street before returning to attempt to take the bus.
“I went to take a picture, and he ran away. When he came back to this side of the street, he kind of froze and he was trying to act like nothing happened,” Ahmad said.
“It happened super fast. I was shocked, but my first reaction was I have to get a picture of this person who did this because I don’t want him to do something similar to other women.”
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The 22-year-old points out this isn’t an isolated incident — in fact, such incidents are becoming more common, and she says her attackers now have “no age, gender or colour” when, before, they were typically “older white men.”
“I’ve never experienced this before to this extent,” she said. “Even today, a man on a bicycle cursed at me in French.”
Ahmad says she wasn’t alone at the Metro station; there were many people around.
“The people lined up for the bus didn’t do a thing. I was trembling. I didn’t know what to do. I left Charlevoix Metro and went to the Lionel-Groulx Metro,” she said. “I wanted to get out.”
Ahmad said incidences of hate have intensified over the last few months with the tabling of Quebec’s secularism bill, to which the third-year McGill University education student is in staunch opposition.
“When it comes to students, I don’t wear my niqab. I only wear it in public,” she said, adding that she won’t be able to participate in her internship come September if Bill 21 passes.
“Even if I become a teacher, I won’t be able to work here. I’m being confronted in all ways, where I can’t even do what I want to do.”
Justice Femme, a Montreal-based group that offers legal support to women, says it has received more reports of hate-fuelled incidents since the religious symbols bill’s March 28 tabling.
The organization’s president, Hanadi Saad, notes the number of reports was “minimal” prior to Coalition Avenir Québec’s election but has been steadily growing in the last few months.
Bill 21 affects teachers, judges, police officers, prison guards, Crown prosecutors and other public servants in what the government considers to be positions of authority.
“They report to our organization via Facebook, by phone, email and through our website,” she explained.
“We received 40 reports. It’s the first time since the creation of Justice Femme that we had this number in two months, and that’s really not good news for us at all.”
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Ahmad points out that it’s no one else’s business if she wears a headscarf.
“I wear niqab as my next step to my faith. It’s a personal decision. I work with modesty. It’s my choice; it’s what people can see of me,” she said.
“I think, especially in this society, there’s a lot of pressure for women to dress a certain way. I want to praise God and not care what the ideas of society are.”
She acknowledges that there are lots of misconceptions about women wearing hijabs or niqabs coming from homes of oppression.
“Anyone that is forced to wear the hijab or niqab, I’ll condemn it. It’s not about forcing someone to do something; it’s personal. No one should tell you how to follow your religion,” Ahmad told Global News.
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However, if the law passes, Ahmad says she may only be left with one decision.
“I want to fight as much as I can, but if people keep treating me this way, I will have to go somewhere else in Canada or outside of Canada.”
Ahmad has filed a police report, the details of which Montreal police say are confidential.