Niqab Gets 2nd Quebec Student Expelled

Niqab gets 2nd Quebec student expelled

CBC News
Last Updated: Monday, April 12, 2010 | 2:38 PM ET
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For the second time in the space of a few months, a Quebec woman has been thrown out of a French-language course after she refused to remove her Muslim veil.

The woman, who wants media to refer to her only as Aisha, is a 25-year-old permanent resident from India. She was enrolled at the Centre d'intgration multi-services de lOuest de lle in the Montreal suburb of Pointe-Claire, which works with the province to integrate new immigrants.

She says it has been about a month since officials from the provincial Ministry of Immigration and Cultural Communities approached her one Friday morning and told her to make a decision: agree to stop wearing the niqab in class or stop attending the class.

The niqab, worn by some Muslim women, is a veil that leaves only the eyes exposed.

Aisha says the government should have been fully aware she was wearing the niqab before she started the intensive language course.

“If they had such a problem with it, they would not have given me admission,” she says.

Course organizers had little warning about meeting

Centre co-ordinator Joannie Lavoie says Immigration Ministry officials only informed the centre they intended to meet with Aisha on the same morning that they met with her.

Lavoie says they told the student she could either take her niqab off or leave.

Aisha was completing the fifth week of the course when she was called into what she describes as an emotionally difficult and “ridiculous” meeting with two government officials.

“Everything was going smoothly in the school,” she told CBC News. “Everyone has been very good to me. It was a really heartbreaking experience for me because I really loved my school, and I think it's my civil right to go there, to learn.”

Aisha's case is similar to that of another woman, Naima Atef Amed, who was expelled twice in November 2009 and then again last month from government-sponsored French-language courses in Montreal for refusing to remove her religious face covering.

Amed, who is of Egyptian origin, has since launched a human rights complaint against the province.

Both Aisha and the centre's director, Mustapha Kachani, say the ministry told them the veil is an obstacle to learning a language.

The provincial government currently has a bill in the works that would require anyone who wears face coverings in Quebec to remove them if they want to work in the public sector, do business with government officials or receive government services.

Aisha says she's aware of the legislation and hopes Bill 94 never passes, “because it's going way too far.”

The bill will go through commission hearings and could be adopted by the end of the spring.