Quebec innfører forbud mot ansiktsslør?

Et lovutkast i Quebec vil nekte kvinner som dekker ansiktet å tilby eller motta offentlige tjenester. De skal heller ikke kunne motta legehjelp på offentlig sykehus eller delta i undervisning på universitet.

Hege Storhaug, HRS

Quebecs ledende politiker, Jean Charest, belegger lovforslaget med identifikasjon, kommunikasjon og sikkerhet – som vel egentlig nesten alle vil være enige om hvis en mannlig sekt begynte å maskere seg i det offentlige rommet.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest and his cabinet have introduced sweeping legislation that effectively bars Muslim women from receiving or delivering public services while wearing a niqab.According to the draft law, they would not be able to consult a doctor in a hospital, for example, or even attend classes in a university.

«Two words: Uncovered face,» Charest told reporters during a press conference in Quebec City.»The principle is clear.»

However, Charest reaffirmed the right to wear other religious symbols, such as crosses, skullcaps or headscarves, which was met by some as evidence of hypocrisy and discrimination.

The Star har programmessig intervjuet en kvinne som dekker ansiktet. Hun mener et lovforbud vil isolere henne og at det er rasistisk. Men er hun ikke allerede isolert? Og hva har dette å gjøre med rasisme? Islam er den religionen i Europa eksempelvis som flest europeere konverterer til…

Some critics say the legislation could prevent women from integrating into Quebec society. «Mr. Charest is talking about welcoming people from different backgrounds and that this is going to unite us,» said Shama Naz, a niqab-wearing woman who lives in the municipality of Kirkland on the island of Montreal.

«This is actually going to isolate people.»

The 33-year-old mother of two young girls, a native of Pakistan, predicts women will be discouraged from going to a doctor, to school or work.

«It will isolate them from basic rights as human beings,» said Naz.

The niqab is a veil worn by a small number of Muslim women that allows only their eyes to be visible. It’s estimated there are «a few dozen» such women living on the island.

Charest explained that the legislation, Bill 94, demands a face in plain view, for reasons of identification, security and communication.

He further clarified that even public-service employees who do not interact with the public – the majority of the provincial bureaucracy – would also not be permitted to wear the niqab.

The province will hold public hearings on the draft legislation.

Though issues of so-called «reasonable accommodation» of religious differences elicit breathless coverage in the media, cases are few and far between.

Only 10 of more than 118,000 visits to the health board’s Montreal office in 2008-09 involved niqab-wearers asking for special dispensation. Ontario has moved in the opposite direction of Quebec.Accommodations are made for women in niqabs, said Geetika Bhardwaj, senior communications advisor to Government Services Minister Harinder Takhar.

Women can go into an interview room and have an identification photo taken by a female staff member. Or, a picture can be taken in a private location by a female agent. «If there is not a private interview room or a private location, a screen can be erected in order to obscure the photo subject from public view,» Bhardwaj said.

And, in the Toronto area, health-care appointments can be made after hours, a system that will soon be extended across the province and will include health cards and driver’s licences.

Critics of the niqab say they subjugate women and their right to equality.

After a woman was removed this month from a French-language class for refusing to remove her niqab, Christine St-Pierre, Quebec’s minister responsible for the status of women, called niqabs «ambulatory prisons.»

On Wednesday, St-Pierre said Quebec was a «world leader» when it comes to gender equality, and with Bill 94, «we prove it once again.»

The legislation doesn’t stop at driver’s licence or health card offices. It encompasses nearly every public and para-public institution as well, including universities, school boards, hospitals, community health and daycare centres.

Daniel Weinstock, director of the ethics research centre at the University of Montreal, applauded the spirit of the law.

Still, he emphasized, the law is based on the principles of not hindering identification or communication. In that, there seemed to be some «wiggle room,» he said.

«I can imagine a person whose mouth is covered still being able to convey her point of view without having to uncover her face.»

Charest and his ministers said the bill highlights the primacy of equality and state «neutrality» on religion.

Nevertheless, the law aims at niqabs but not other religious symbols.

For Naz, it’s simply «hypocrisy. A lot of Muslims will think it’s racially oriented,» she said. «Everybody else goes on wearing whatever they want to express themselves.»