Quebec’s chief election official has decreed that women who wear veils that cover their faces, such as niqab, must appear uncovered at the polls for Monday’s election, or they will not be allowed to vote.
Marcel Blanchet had been criticized by Quebec’s three main political leaders for allowing voters to wear the niqab, which covers the entire face except for the eyes, and cast their ballots if they signed a sworn statement and showed proper ID.
Reversing his earlier decision, Blanchet said he was exercising his authority to amend articles in the electoral law to avoid disruptions when residents go to the polls. Prior to the amendment, the law did not include any provisions barring voters from covering their faces.
“Relevant articles to electoral laws were modified to add the following: any person showing up at a polling station must be uncovered to exercise the right to vote,” said Blanchet, who was assigned bodyguards after having received threatening phone calls and e-mails from voters outraged over his initial decision. Some voters threatened to protest by showing up at polling stations wearing masks.
Well. So nice to see that Muslim women are being used, yet again, as a convenient and visible way for xenophobes to express their anti-immigrant rage. And this doesn’t even seem to be based on voter fraud concerns, which you’d think would be the first thing raised. Or maybe I’m just too familiar with Republican vote-suppression tactics.
This isn’t the only recent incident of a veiled Muslim woman being forced or simply discouraged out of participation in public life in Quebec.
For instance, recently a young woman in Montreal was forced to choose between her headscarf and a job as a prison guard, and was fired when she chose her headscarf. While the prison authority supported the firing as based on safety (and they do have a point), the firing is controversial in light of Muslim women in the armed forces and several police departments who wear specially-designed hijab on active duty:
While rules at the institution make no mention of hijabs — a scarf that covers the hair and neck — they do stipulate that a guard’s hair must be tied back and that they cannot wear ties.
Quebec’s Public Security Department and the labor union representing prison guards supported the decision.
“As a security measure, the hijab cannot be accepted as an element of the uniform to execute the functions of a correctional officer,” said public security department spokesman Real Roussy.
The Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations called the firing “entirely unnecessary” and pointed out that the Canadian Armed Forces and police departments in other Canadian cities allow women to wear the headscarf on active duty.
“If it really was a security issue, they would have sat down with Sondos and would have said, ‘Look, we’re really worried about your safety and we need to talk about what we can do to address this or we’ll fire you,’” said CCAIR spokeswoman Sarah Elgazzar. “But she was given an ultimatum: ‘You either take it off or you’re fired.’”
While the Armed Forces require a special head scarf, others working in police forces wear them bandana-style, Elgazzar said, adding that Abdelatif had been willing to do that.
Not to mention, how did a veiled woman get all the way to a training program without anybody telling her about the rules? Is she the first one to get that far? Did they just make this up?
And in February, an 11-year-old girl from Ontario who traveled to Quebec with her soccer team was pulled from a game during a tournament after she refused the referee’s request to remove her headscarf. Her teammates walked off the field in protest, and four other teams pulled out of the tournament. This became an international incident after the issue was raised at an International Federation meeting and Egypt later accused Canada of intolerance. The Quebec soccer officials, however, claimed they were just following FIFA rules:
Reasonable accommodation of ethnic minorities in the province has been a hot button issue there for seveal months. According to her mother, who is Italian heritage and doesn’t wear the hijab, her daughter chose to wear the hijab when she was 9 years old. Her father is Lebanese. In an interview on Canada AM her mother said that the youngster announced her decision to wear the hijab to her parents on her own and they were very proud of her.
The Quebec Soccer Federation maintains that they are simply enforcing FIFA’s (an international governing body) rules. An official at FIFA said that non-standard equipment is allowed as long as it isn’t dangerours and that there is no specific rule against headgear being worn. The Quebec Federation claims that she could strangle herself with the scarf and it is dangerous. Meanwhile teams regularly play in other provinces with girls wearing hijabs without incident. Mansour tucks her scarf into her uniform shirt when playing.
The youngster has played in tournaments in Ontario and two previous games at the Lavel tournament before the referee in the third game ordered her to remove the hijab. The Federation seems to feel that because the referee is Muslim that doesn’t make the ruling discriminatory. The youngster was not told at the time of registering for any of her games that the hijab was not allowed.
The tournament organizer placed the blame for allowing her play in the first two games on the refs. Which begs the question, if the rule about the hijab being worn is clear, why was she not told at registration and not subjected to being centered out in front of the crowd by being ejected by the ref?
One of the wonderful things about covert racism is the ability to claim “we’re just following the rules” to justify the discrimination. It is very clear in looking at this story that the ability to be flexible and allow the hijab are present in FIFAs rules that the Quebec Federation could and should show the tolerance that their governing body has shown. There are soccer teams in Muslim countries on which women wear their hijabs. I haven’t heard of any of them being killed on the soccer field.
Yes, safety and avoiding disruption at the polls was the excuse used by Blanchet in finding a rules-based justification for forcing women to choose between their hijab and their right to vote. Never mind that the disruption would come solely from the good Quebecois who find it so offensive that a woman in a veil could vote that they’re threatening the life of an election official. No, let’s take away the voice and the vote of a small minority of women based on the fears and misconceptions of the majority, and their failure to see the women behind the scarves as human beings.
In other Quebec anti-Muslim news, the town of Hérouxville recently adopted a “declaration of norms” advising immigrants of How We Do Things Here, which strongly discouraged women from wearing veils. Broadsheet has more on it (the original Globe and Mail article is no longer available).
Quebec has been granted a special status in Canada as part of an effort to keep the separatist elements down. One of Quebec’s main concerns is keeping French as the dominant language and keeping its culture distinct, and it is allowed to set its own rules regarding immigration, focusing heavily on drawing immigrants from Francophone countries. While there are no end of former French colonies from which Quebec can draw immigrants, many of those immigrants will belong to religious minorities. The special status, however, does not excuse Quebec from following the laws requiring reasonable accommodation of ethnic minorities. And this seems to be what is chapping its collective ass.