Muslim students reconsider Quebec universities after ban on face coverings

burqa muslim
Quebec province passed a controversial law banning face coverings for those giving or receiving public services. Source: Shutterstock

Two weeks ago, the passing of a controversial law in Quebec banning face coverings for those giving or receiving public services was met with public backlash. While Quebec’s Liberal government was forced to tone down its interpretation amid criticism that it directly targeted Muslims, the damage it seems has already been done.

The passing of Bill 62 – which would oblige citizens to unveil when receiving services from government departments, municipalities, school boards, public health services and transit authorities – has forced some Muslim students to reconsider their plans to pursue further study in the province.

“Just as every woman has the right to reveal herself, the woman next to her has the right to conceal herself,” Farah Mikati, a 15-year-old high school student told The Canadian Press (via CBC)

“…If the government is going to impact our basic rights, I don’t want to be a part of it.”

Mikati had long dreamt of attending Montreal’s McGill University, a college famous for its prestigious law school, but has now said she will rethink her plans as a result of the passing of Bill 62.

And Mikati is not alone in these sentiments; many Muslim students are saying they no longer feel welcome in the region and fear that the new legislation may make it difficult to access basic services while exacerbating religious tension.

Despite Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing doubt over the law, saying his government would look into the legislation as it’s not “the government’s business to tell a woman what she should or shouldn’t be wearing,” the majority of Canadians actually support such measures.

The Bill is aimed at “religious neutrality” but it is clear from the face-covering aspect that this is directed at Muslim women and there are fears in the Muslim community that it could further compound anti-Islamic sentiment that is on the rise in the country – and in Quebec province in particular.

Canada has a growing problem with targeting Muslims with hate crimes against the community increasing a whopping 253 percent between 2012 and 2015.

According to the Statistics Canada data, police across the country recorded 159 hate crimes targeted at Muslims in 2015, up from 45 in 2012, despite the overall number of such crimes going down.

Batool Suleman, 17, who wears a hijab, said she’s already felt some anti-Islamic sentiment on past visits to Quebec province and worries that the new law will only make matters worse.

“That’s scary,” she said of the law.

Suleman said:

“How can I, a citizen of Canada, not be allowed to go somewhere just because of a piece of cloth?”

She also expressed concern that it may limit a woman’s ability to use public transport and use the public libraries – essential services for students on a budget.

The Canadian Federation of Students has come out against the passing of the Bill, releasing a statement the following day expressing their “strong opposition.”

“The law is less about public safety than it is about the gradual elimination of Islam from public spaces in Québec,” the statement reads.

“The Federation stands in solidarity with students residing in Québec who are opposed to this bill and are organising against it.”

Protests have risen throughout the province in opposition to the Bill, a move that will hopefully act as some reassurance to prospective students heading to the province for university.

“This law is targeting specific people and cultures, which is not fair,” one protestor told the Montreal Gazette. “We think it is inhibiting people from practising the freedoms they have as Canadians.”

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