After France, niqab controversy now hots up in Canada

When the college and the provincial government asked her to remove the veil, she opted to quit the class.

The unidentified Egyptian woman, a mother of three who is a new immigrant to Canada, has now filed a petition with the human rights commission of Quebec province for violations of her religious rights.

According to the principal of the college, CEGEP de Saint-Laurent, they first accommodated the woman's demands by allowing her to wear the veil or niqab - which covers her from head to toes and allows her to see only through a slit in her garment - when the first session started in August.

The woman was given the front seat in the class, with all male students behind her. She was even allowed to make presentations from the rear of the classroom with her back to the class which had three male and 17 female students.

Hostility grew one day when the woman asked male students to move away from her. For one-on-one exercises, the woman would retreat to a corner with her female instructor, the Globe and Mail newspaper quoted college principal Paul-Emile Bourque as saying.

Things changed even more radically for the Muslim woman in the second session which started in October as there was now no female instructor and the entire class was supposed to sit around a U-shaped table to converse and learn French pronunciation.
But the Muslim woman opted to leave when the college and the provincial immigration ministry insisted that she remove her veil.

The principal said it is not possible to learn proper pronunciation if the teacher can't see the mouth of the student. "We tried certain arrangements, but the demands just became too great,'' said the principal.

Justifying the steps by the college, Quebec immigration minister Yolande James said, "We could not accept the objectives (of integrating immigrant in society) be compromised and neither could we accept to jeopardize the learning environment in the classroom.''

But the Muslim woman told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Wednesday that she wore niqab because of male students in the class.

"I have three kids, and now, I am very nervous, and they're crying, and I have quite a problem,'' she said, adding that her religious freedom has been violated by the authorities.

The human rights panel will give its verdict later in the spring. Canada has more than a million Muslims.

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