Ottawa Citizen

Niqab nonsense

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Is the province of Quebec really proposing a law that could prevent Muslim women from getting medical treatment if they refuse to uncover their faces? That is one of the possible scenarios in the misguided anti-niqab bill announced by Quebec premier Jean Charest this week.

The proposed law is a clumsy, politicall­y-charged hammer. The niqab issue, however, is one that demands flexibilit­y and common sense — not laws and threats.

Of the 200,000 or so Muslims in Quebec, maybe a few dozen women wear a niqab, a veil that covers the entire face except for a slit for the eyes. To draft legislatio­n singling out such a tiny minority suggests the law has more to do with pandering to fears about immigratio­n — specifical­ly, the failure of some immigrants to integrate — than solving any real, non-aesthetic problem posed by niqabs.

If the goal is to promote integratio­n, the anti-niqab bill might have the opposite effect, because it could make these Muslim women even more isolated. Facing a choice between accessing public services or wearing the niqab, some might choose the niqab. This will hinder the goal of increasing contact between new immigrants and mainstream society.

The anti-niqab bill is clearly meant to be a political statement, and an ostentatio­us one at that, not unlike the infamous code of behaviour drafted by the Quebec town of Hérouxvill­e in 2007 that prohibited all sorts of practices, real or imagined, that are associated with immigrants. The joke was that Hérouxvill­e had virtually no immigrant population.

There might well be situations in which it is unreasonab­le for a woman to wear a niqab. But there are more effective ways to deal with these than laws created mainly for their political appeal.

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