Immigration Minister Yolande James publically waded into the ongoing controversy over reasonable accomodation Tuesday, insisting she will stand by her decision to refuse to allow students to cover their faces with niqabs of burqas in French classes.
“There is no ambiguity about this question,” James said. “If you want to assist in our classes, if you want to integrate into Quebec society, here are our values.
“We want to see your face.”
Last week the story broke in La Presse that James' department had asked 29 year-old Naema Ahmed to leave CEGEP St.Laurent after she refused to remove her niqab during class.
The woman, who is from Egypt, then enrolled into a French course for immigrants at the Centre d'appui aux communautés immigrantes.
Ahmed was told, again, that face covering during French class would not be tolerated.
The Department of Immigration says the director of francization Roger Giroux accompanied by an interpreter met with Ahmed yesterday to tell her she could not keep her face covered during French class.
Premier Jean Charest's Liberal government has come under increased pressure from the opposition Parti Québécois to adopt measures to protect Quebec secularism and the equality of men and women.
Quebec is not the only place the niqab is coming under attack, it has recently been banned in Ahmed's home country of Egypt. Muslim clerics there have banned women from wearing the full veil in schools and universities.
Meanwhile, the Harper government has stepped in offering its support to Quebec.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Josée Verner said Thursday she agrees with the provincial government's recent decision to expel.
In an interview with a Quebec City radio host, Verner said,
"It has nothing to do with religious beliefs, even though there's a debate that should take place there,"
"But quite frankly, for someone who goes around who is quote-unquote masked, no matter what time of day, if someone rang on my door bell wearing a mask, I wouldn't open the door."
"If I was in charge of a daycare, I wouldn't allow a child to leave with someone if I could not see their face," Verner added. "I don't think I'd be able to go into a bank with a mask on my head."
The issue has caused sharp divisions in the Muslim community over the wearing of the headwear. Salam Elmenyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal, said Quebec is pushing Ahmed into isolation and depriving her of the ability to learn French and integrate into society.
“We're missing a good opportunity to educate this woman and let her learn our language and culture. We're telling her: Don't go out,” he said.
But he Muslim Canadian Congress called for a ban and applauded Quebec's attitude toward the niqab and burka.
“This is an attire worn in the desert during sandstorms. It's got nothing to do with religion,” said Tarek Fatah, founder of the congress. “It's a very clear sign that women are the possessions of men, and it's being thrust on North America and Europe. Most Muslims are fed up with the niqab and burka.”