Quebec woman kicked out of class a second time for wearing niqab

By Jonathan Montpetit
The Canadian Press

Photo: CTV/Manipulation by True North Perspective
Quebec to ban religion in public daycares

MONTREAL — A Muslim woman in Quebec has been kicked out of a language course for the second time because of her refusal to remove a religious face covering

The Egyptian immigrant made headlines last week when it was revealed provincial Immigration Department officials expelled her from a government-sponsored French class several months ago after she refused to take off her niqab.

Known only as Naema in Quebec media, she had since enrolled in another government-sponsored French class, this time at a community centre for immigrants in Montreal.

But almost as soon as the Quebec government got word she was attending class in her niqab, it confronted her again, forcing her to make the same decision she made in November.

As she did then, Naema chose her religion instead of learning French on the Quebec government's terms.

Quebec to ban religion in public daycares

Religious education will no longer be tolerated in government-subsidized daycares, says Quebec Family Minister Tony Tomassi. (CBC)
Religious education will no longer be tolerated in government-subsidized daycares, says Quebec Family Minister Tony Tomassi. (CBC)
Quebec will ban religious instruction in provincially funded daycare centres, Family Minister Tony Tomassi said Wednesday.

Tomassi made the announcement just one day after saying he would not prevent daycare centres from teaching religious beliefs.

On Tuesday, he said Quebec's public daycares reflect family values and religious instruction was normal in the province.

But on Wednesday, he said the practice will be prohibited.

He said an internal audit has revealed about 20 daycares, which receive public funding, include religious instruction in their educational programs.

"So we have to verify it," said Tomassi. Once that's done, he said he will meet with the daycare administrators, and work with them to eliminate religion from their program.

Tomassi refused to commit to withdrawing the permits of centres that do not comply.

A few years ago, Tomassi's department, which was then run by current Education Minister Michelle Courchesne, granted a permit to an Islamic association so it could open an 80-spot daycare centre in Laval, north of Montreal.

The organization's objective is to "spread Islamic education among Muslims and non-Muslims."

Another example is that of the Beth Rivkah centre in Montreal, which is run by Rabbi Yosef Minkowitz. Its website states that all "daily activities are driven by the spirit of Torah and the Jewish tradition."

The daycare brouhaha has unfolded amid the controversy surrounding a Muslim woman in Quebec who was kicked out of a government-sponsored French class because she refused to remove her niqab — a traditional face covering. — 10 March 2010, CBC News

"It is a copy and paste of what happened last week," said Samer Majzoub, who heads the Canadian Muslim Forum, a non-profit organization that has been providing support for Naema.

"Why is the government doing this? I wonder if they have other things to do in life other than following this woman."

Quebec Immigration Minister Yolande James appeared to move quickly in addressing the latest contribution to the province's ongoing debate over the accommodation of religious and ethnic minorities.

News of Naema's new enrolment first appeared in Tuesday's edition of Montreal La Presse newspaper. By 10 a.m., officials from the Quebec government were meeting with her and representatives of the centre.

James' office said it received word on Friday from teachers at the community centre that Naema was wearing her niqab in class.

"As we did last time, we told her that we have pedagogical objectives to meet in our French immersion courses, that they have to be taken with her face exposed," said Luc Fortin, a spokesman for James.

"She refused to take off her niqab and she left the course."

In Quebec City on Tuesday, James said "if she wants to attend the classes we need to be able to see her face."

Naema declined to speak to The Canadian Press, saying through an intermediary that she had been upset by media coverage of her initial expulsion.

Several commentators as well as certain Muslim groups expressed support for the Quebec's government's position last week.

They argued Naema had been unreasonable in her demands, which reportedly included giving oral presentations with her back facing the co-ed class.

"She's devastated," Majzoub said. "This woman was insisting on being part of Quebec society, on integrating."

He added she was surprised at the government's suddenly renewed interest in her case.

She had been enrolled in the part-time course for around 45 days and had yet to hear of any complaints from her teachers, Majzoub said.

Her expulsion from the college French course in November is the subject of a complaint the woman filed with the Quebec human rights commission.

The accommodation issue is politically contentious for the provincial Liberal government.

Facing repeated criticism from the Opposition Parti Quebecois for failing to protect Quebec values, the Liberals say they intend to take "concrete measures" in the coming weeks to deal with the problem.

While it has remained mum on the details, the PQ has called on the government to do more to protect the secular nature of Quebec society and equality between men and women.

Recent polls have suggested a majority of Quebecers feel the government has done too much to accommodate minorities.

9 March 2010 — Return to cover.