The Shmooze

Orthodox Jews Fight Proposed Niqab Ban in Quebec

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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The Orthodox community in Quebec is fighting for Muslim women’s right to wear the niqab. Convinced that a bill to ban the Islamic face veil, if passed, could ultimately lead to the outlawing of Jewish religious practices and customs, they made an unprecedented appearance in front of the National Assembly committee considering the legislation.

The Jewish Orthodox Council for Community Relations considers the proposed ban on a woman’s the wearing of the niqab when delivering or receiving government services as a bid to put gender rights above religious rights. The group has warned that such a law would create a hierarchy of rights leading not only to curtailed religious freedoms, but also heightened social tensions within Quebec society.

“The government’s interpretation comes in conflict with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, both the Canadian Charter and the Quebec Charter,” Lionel Perez, the Orthodox Jews’ legal counsel, told The Globe and Mail. “It will lead to court challenges, and if it leads to court challenges there will be more media coverage. If there is more media coverage, it will lead to more scrutiny … and it will exacerbate the social tensions.”

The Orthodox community is afraid it might lose the reasonable accommodation that they have requested and sometimes been extended thus far, such as when in 2006 a Montreal YMCA agreed to tint its gym windows so neighborhood Hasidim would not be able to see women in workout clothes. (A year later the YMCA reversed its action and removed the tinted glass.)

The bill currently in front of Quebec’s National Assembly would ban the wearing of the niqab, but would not bar public servants from wearing any other religious garment or symbol.


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