Veiled threat: Niqab ban has some fearing a less tolerant Canada

By Teresa Smith, Postmedia NewsDecember 17, 2011 1:06 AM

When Minna Ella walks through the department store, she’s one of the few  women who don’t get pestered by clerks trying to dole out free makeup and  perfume samples.


“They just look right through me,” says the 35-year-old.


The reason seems clear.


Whenever the mother of four leaves her house in Waterloo, Ont., she covers  herself with a niqab, a Muslim veil that covers her from head to toe, leaving a  slit for her eyes.


She is one of an estimated 300 women across Canada living their public lives  under the cover of this veil.


Ella, who was born and raised in Ontario, says in the past few years, she has  noticed a sense of growing anger and fear from Canadians.


She says that’s particularly true since Quebec introduced Bill 94 in 2010.  The bill, still working its way through the legislature, would require public  employees, education and health workers, and anyone seeking government services,  to have their faces uncovered at all times.


The debate spread across the country and was the first in a series of moves  Ella says have changed her experience of Canada.


This week, Jason Kenney, the minister of immigration, citizenship and  multiculturalism, announced that women will now be required to remove their face  coverings during citizenship swearing-in ceremonies.


Survey results from Forum Research showed widespread support for the move,  with 81 per cent of respondents saying they agreed with it. In fact, a majority  of the survey’s 1,160 respondents in every major category — sex, age, region and  political persuasion — agreed.


Still, some have been angered and point to the Charter of Rights and  Freedoms, which protects religious freedoms and freedom of expression, saying  this rule will set Canada back, and flies in the face of our multicultural  society.


“We have never locked into a notion of what it means to be Canadian,” says  Bev Baines, professor of public and constitutional law at Queen’s University in  Kingston, Ont.


“So, if we want to have a debate about our identity, we should have it being  conscious of the fact that almost a third of Canadians now are not the old-line  francophone or anglophone folks that we used to be.”


Rania Lawendy, who is on the board of the Muslim Association of Canada,  agrees.


“People left Europe to come to Canada because they wanted religious freedom,”  she says. “At the time, they were Christians, but that’s been the spirit of  Canada. It would be a dark day if we started banning religious expressions on  this continent.”


The veil has become a highly political garment, both here and abroad, with  Canadians, both Muslim and non-Muslim, on both sides of the debate.


France and Belgium were the first to ban the face covering in all public  spaces, and the issue often makes headlines in the Netherlands and Denmark, with  supporters calling the niqab a “medieval relic” that oppresses women and  promotes sex discrimination.


Lawendy and Ella say they worry that, with this move, the Conservative  government has put Canada on the same track.


“It wasn’t like this, even a couple of years ago,” says Ella. “We were  treated properly. We were treated as Canadians. Then, all of a sudden, Bill 94  came to Quebec, there was a big fuss, and ever since that time, (the issue is  coming up) frequently.”


In the past session of Parliament, Conservative MP Steve Blaney introduced a  bill that would force women to show their faces at the polling booth — it was  not passed, but the government has said it will re-introduce a similar bill in  the new year.


Naima Bouteldja, a French researcher who interviewed 32 niqabi women in that  country for an April 2011 report, and who is in the process of doing the same in  the United Kingdom, says there is a disproportionate response from politicians  to what they see as the “problem of the niqab.”


Bouteldja herself wears the hijab, the Muslim garment that covers her hair  but leaves her face revealed.


“It’s a clear political manipulation, which they use to divert attention from  economic problems,” says Bouteldja, who says she personally has not met any  women forced to wear the niqab.


In fact, she says some have been thrown into family conflict because they  choose to cover against the wishes of their parents. “But, none of this is  addressed by an outright ban,” she says.


Ella says that under her niqab she wears makeup and follows the latest  fashion trends.


“If you were to visit me at home, I would be wearing whatever I want to wear — I have skinny jeans and nice tops, I have everything that everyone else wears,  but I only show them inside my home, with my family and friends, or outside with  only women.


“In our book, the Qur’an, there are verses that God has sent to us that  explain how we’re supposed to dress,” says Ella, when asked why she decided, at  age 17, to cover herself for the sake of modesty.


“In these verses the hijab (or head scarf) is mandatory and that’s what we  all have to wear. Some scholars have made further interpretations that, if you  cover your face, that would be better in the eyes of God.


“I’ve read both sides and I made this decision on my own — not because I’m  hiding from anyone or because I’m oppressed, but because that’s how I feel  comfortable and it makes me feel closer to my creator.”


Still, in countries, such as Canada and France, where women have fought for  equality, where an increasingly secular society has seen religious belief on a  steady decline, and where many young women take every excuse to flaunt what  Mother Nature gave them, the idea that any woman would choose to keep her body  out of sight can seem alien.


“It’s hard for many Canadians to understand,” says University of Montreal  researcher Patrice Brodeur.


When confronted with a woman in a niqab, there’s a certain level of  discomfort because we don’t know how to behave, he says.


Without being able to see her body language, how can we know her  intentions?


But banning certain types of dress has never been the answer, he says.


“We must, instead, learn to see the person behind the veil and not to put our  own expectations onto them.”


Brodeur was speaking from Qatar, where he was attending a UN conference  called the Alliance of Civilizations. He says the Canadian government’s approach  “creates an ‘us versus them’ dichotomy, stereotypes Muslim women, and scapegoats  the minuscule percentage of the population that chooses to cover  themselves.”


The government’s move has earned it praise from some quarters.


Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress, applauded Kenney’s  announcement.


“He has done in one stroke what any other Canadian politician has not had the  courage to do. It sends a clear message that this attire is not welcome in  Canada.”


Fatah, whose organization has been called right-wing by members of other  Muslim organizations in this country, called the niqab “monstrous” and accused  women who wear it of being agents of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood who  hate Canada.


He says the veil allows them to avoid pledging allegiance to the Queen which,  he says, is against their “extremist views.”


Brodeur counters that it’s foolish to assume all women who wear one piece of  traditional clothing think or believe the same thing.


Critics of the Tory government’s recent policy change have pointed out it was  done with little public consultation with the community.


Furthermore, Brodeur says, the niqab simply isn’t that prevalent in Canadian  society.


There are not more than 50 women in the Greater Montreal Area who wear the  niqab, he says.


Perhaps 100 around Toronto, and fewer in Vancouver — maybe 300 all across the  country, at most, estimated Brodeur.


Those numbers could grow.


The population of Muslims in Canada is expected to nearly triplein the next  20 years, from about 940,000 in 2010 to nearly 2.7 million in 2030, according to  a Pew Forum survey on The Future of the Global Muslim Population.


Muslims are expected to make up 6.6 per cent of Canada’s total population in  2030, up from 2.8 per cent today.


As the number of Muslims in Canada increases, government must resist  excluding these women from participating in society, and encourage people on  both sides of the debate to create a Canadian-made approach, Brodeur says.


The minister of multiculturalism said he had received complaints that it was  difficult to tell if women who wear the veil are actually reciting the oath, as  required by Canadian law.


“The citizenship oath is a quintessentially public act. It is a public  declaration that you are joining the Canadian family and it must be taken freely  and openly,” Kenney said Monday as he made his announcement.


For her part, Ella says that rather than scapegoating the small minority of  women who wear the niqab, the government could ensure that they are, in fact,  pledging their allegiance to the Maple Leaf in a more culturally sensitive  way.


Someone could stand beside the woman, Ella suggests. Or she could hold a  microphone, say the oath in front of a female judge, or remove the niqab for the  brief time she is reciting the oath — not for the whole ceremony.


“It’s frustrating because we are not a threat,” says Ella.


“They are making us seem like a threat, they are making up stories and making  people scared of us.”


Weighing in on the debate over the niqab isn’t usually how Ella spends her  energy.


She works as an administrator at the Al Huda School in Kitchener, Ont., which  teaches young students the tenets of Islam. It is one of a handful of  weekend-only schools sponsored by the Muslim Association of Canada.


When she’s not at the school, out for a sushi lunch with friends, or shopping  for groceries or clothing for her kids, she’s busy in the job of bringing up her  children to be respectful, caring Muslim-Canadians, something that keeps her on  her toes.


“I put so much energy into teaching them how to be responsible citizens. I’m  involved in their school and their education . . . that’s how I contribute to  Canadian society.”


Ella, whose voice lights up when she talks about her children, says her  daughter, Sohayla, 13, is excelling at kung fu and swimming, while her oldest  son, Ahmad, 11, has just started water polo: “He’s getting very strong and he  loves it.”


She’s the first in line to cheer on Abdurahman, her seven-year-old, as he  runs on the soccer field, or swims laps in the community pool.


And the newest member of her family, her three-month old son, is a joy, she  says.


When asked if she will guide her daughter to cover herself, Ella says, no,  it’s a personal matter between a believer and her creator. “No one else can make  that decision for her.”


But she is worried.


“I was shopping once and a lady came up very close to me. She stared into my  eyes and said ‘You’re in Canada, now.'”


Most people tell her to “go home” or give her dirty looks, but Ella says she  just keeps silent when this happens.


“It makes me feel sad because I would like to reach out and say ‘I’m just  like you, and I dress like this because it’s a religious thing, but it doesn’t  make me less human than you.’

Read more:



  1. If you want to be a Canadian citizen then show your face, your identity, like everyone else. Otherwise stay in a muslim country. Canadian citizens must obey Canadian laws, period.

    Women have fought hard for equality in this country and most of the intelligent ones don’t want to see walking black shrouds of oppression & subjugation on their streets. If you must where the slave sack, do it at home.

    I can’t speak for others, but it offends me to the core and if I had a say those slave sacks, those black death shrouds would be banned from public in this country.

    • They don’t want to be Canadian citizens, they’ll mouth the words required to gain entrance. I’ve said it a thousand times now, they’re not here to assimilate but to dominate. The evidence is overwhelming when looking at any country they’ve arrived at in large numbers. Moderates are nothing more than the political tools of Islam.

      • I agree, but what can we do about it?

        I’ve written my letter to the PM & Jason Kenney asking that they ban or limit muslim immigration while studying it’s effects in Europe. I also asked them to give priority to other religions, ones that are willing to assimilate like the Copts and all groups persecuted by muslims on a daily basis. But apparently the UN , the muslim -compromised UN gets to decide who emigrates and where to and guess what, they’ve given priority to all muslim immigrants over everyone else. They are totally complicit in the islamification of the West and the West stands by and allows it to happen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s