Quebec 'veil bill' hearings may soon end
By Kevin Dougherty
The Montreal Gazette (Canada), May 19, 2010
Quebec — Opposition members fear Thursday could be the last day of hearings on Bill 94, the Quebec government's proposal to impose a 'you must show your face' rule which has drawn the ire of the province's Muslims.
'We're in the dark,' admitted Justice Minister Kathleen Weil Wednesday, when asked whether the hearings would go ahead.
If Thursday is the last day, one of the last witnesses would be Andre Drouin, whose 'life code,' adopted by the Quebec village of Herouxville, was viewed as over the top because it informed newcomers that in Herouxville, population 1,338, they could not stone their wives.
Louise Beaudoin, the Parti Quebecois immigration critic, was the first to point out that the hearings, which she expected to continue for the three remaining weeks of the current session of the national assembly, had been cut short.
Beaudoin noted that in the hearings, no one has offered a ringing endorsement of Bill 94, with the first Islamic group to testify describing it as 'Islamophobic' and others noting that the only religious garb to which Bill 94 specifically refers is the niqab, the Islamic face veil.
And Beaudoin noted that Bill 16, an earlier attempt by the Jean Charest government to deal with so-called 'reasonable accommodation,' was abandoned by the government in the face of opposition.
Charest indicated that the reception for Bill 94 had been 'generally favourable.'
'It will never be unanimous because it is a subject that, as we know, is already pretty complex,' the premier said.
But later came confirmation that Thursday would be the last day of hearings until August. An aide to Jacques Dupuis, the government house leader, said that this was for 'scheduling reasons.'
Beaudoin was not so sure.
'I don't know,' she said. 'Everyone is ready, everyone has presented their briefs. I don't have an answer, but I am worried about what comes next.'
Weil said Bill 94 was 'very appreciated,' and while those who testified at the hearings found fault with it, 'it's important to listen,' she said.
Salam Elmenyawi, chairman of the Muslim Council of Montreal, said that if the move indicates the government intends to back down on Bill 94, he welcomes the suspension of the public hearings.
'It's clear this law is made against the Muslim community,' Elmenyawi said.
The Muslim Council refused to take part in the hearings on Bill 94 as a protest. Passing a law that targets Muslims would cause a deep and lasting rift within Quebec society that would leave long scars, Elmenyawi said.
'This could never be forgotten,' he said.
Djemila Benhabib, an Algerian-born journalist and fervent opponent of Islamic fundamentalism, had been scheduled to appear before the hearings.
'That's not possible!' she exclaimed when told the government had suspended the hearings.
She said she would not comment until she was informed through official channels that the hearings were suspended.
Officials from the Quebec Human Rights Commission, also scheduled to appear, refused comment.
Brahim Benyoucef, a sociology and urban studies professor who can't find a teaching job in Quebec, speaking for the Canadian Islamic Federation, said Bill 94 had sparked 'consternation and worry' in Quebec's Islamic community.
It seems to be a response to non-Muslims in Quebec who say, ' 'Once again, these Muslims are making trouble,' ' he said.
Bill 94 was presented after two Muslim women wearing niqabs were expelled from French courses for immigrants because they refused to remove their face veils.