Students worry about new Quebec law banning face-covering garments

By: Imani Walker

Being a Muslim woman in Canada is now more complicated than ever. Last week, Quebec passed Bill 62, a bill that bans anyone who covers their face from providing or receiving public services.

The bill affects Muslim women who wear the niqab, burka, or other face-covering garments. According to CBC News Montreal, Quebec’s Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée clarified on Tuesday that the law will only be applied when used for identification, security or communication purposes.

Aima Warriach is a Ryerson student who wears a niqab. She believes the bill targets a small percentage of the population and prohibits people from expressing their culture freely.

Members of the Ryerson Muslim Students’ Association (RMSA) say bill 62 limits women’s freedom of choice. Left to right: Samia Saqib, Mehreen Arif and Waseelah Maryam. (Photo by Natasha Hermann)

“One of the many purposes of this bill is to restrict access and mobility to things such as health care, education and public transit. As a niqabi woman, if you have restrictions placed upon you by these things, how can you access health care when you’re sick? How can you access the bus when you need to go somewhere? How can you get an education?” said Warriach, a second-year politics and governance student.

However, many supporters of the bill say the ban would promote safety and transparency.

“There have been issues with people misusing the niqab, so I understand why people would support it, but there’s a better way to go about it,” said Hafsa Ghasamaie, a first-year occupational health and safety student at Ryerson.

While she understands people’s fear of the niqab, she still believes women should have the freedom to choose what they wear.

Ghasamaie’s friends, Samia Saqib and Waseelah Maryam, add that women who wear the niqab feel comfortable removing the veil in front of other women.

They believe a woman’s face can remain covered for services such as taking the bus or going to the library, but being in court or the airport is a different case.

“If she’s in court, they can have another woman check to identify her, maybe go in a separate room,” said Saqib, a first-year public health and safety student.

“The niqab is not a black and white thing, there’s definitely shades in between. If a woman is wearing a face veil, she can raise it. It’s not like they can’t show their face, but she should have the right to choose,” said Maryam, a first-year biology student at Ryerson.

Although Quebec passed the bill, the students worry the ban will lead to more limitations for women in the future.

“I can see an issue building. First, let’s ban the niqab, then let’s ban wearing abayas (like) long dresses. Let’s start banning burkinis, let’s start banning hijabs. One problem can lead to so many others. People are going to think it’s totally fine because…you’re trying to manipulate and assimilate people,” said Saqib.

The support of this bill by Quebecers has raised questions of Islamophobia within Canada.

“Unfortunately, many among the political elite in Canada and Quebec are not truly concerned with the well-being of the people they are supposed to serve,” said Imam Yasin Dwyer, the Muslim chaplain at Ryerson. “They are primarily concerned with getting elected and re-elected. Bill 62 is another attempt to win cheap votes through the politics of fear and anti-Muslim scapegoating.”

The conversation has taken over social media. Sakeena Mihar, a web content strategist in Ryerson’s HR department, wears a niqab. Last week, she addressed an open letter to the prime minister on her Facebook page Ask Me About My Veil.

“I learned the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms when I studied for my citizenship test. It said I have this freedom to express myself. You yourself have said it many times: we are strong not in spite of our differences, but because of them. Then why did this bill pass?” Mihar wrote.

In the letter, she mentions her concern for a friend who recently moved to Montreal.

“She grew up in Toronto and wears the niqab. Now, she has a one-year-old son and worries about access to her doctor because of her niqab,” Mihar wrote.

The results of a survey completed by the Angus Reid Institute, a Canadian research non-profit, shows that 62 per cent of respondents in Quebec said they support the bill.

However, protesters have gathered across the province to oppose the ban.

“The Canadian Muslim community needs to continue forming alliances with fellow citizens who are committed to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canadians must say no to government bullying, especially towards marginalized groups,” Dwyer said.

Dwyer says Canadians and Quebecers need to support Muslim women who choose to cover their faces and should join them in resisting government efforts that force them to remove it.

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