Proposed ban on Muslim veil stirs controversy in Quebec

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A proposed ban in Quebec's public service against the niqab, a veil worn by some Muslim women, stirred up a fierce debate this week in the mostly French-speaking Canadian province.

Widely supported in Canada, Bill 94 would require Quebec public servants and anyone accessing a provincial government service to show their face.

But Indian-Canadian Tasneen Mughal, who wears the veil, says it is "an attack on Muslims."

She told AFP she would rather leave Quebec with her husband and their two children and move to neighboring Ontario province than give up her niqab.

The 27-year-old woman, born in Montreal, is among 100 or so women in Quebec who have garnered much attention for wearing a niqab as committee hearings are held in Quebec City on the bill that is expected to become law.

"People should be seen... in order to identify a person, for security reasons," Quebec Justice Minister Kathleen Weil said of her brainchild.

Louise Beaudoin, spokeswoman for the opposition Parti Quebecois, would like the law to go even further.

"For the rest of Canada, multiculturalism is a virtue," she said. "For us, it's different. We try to find a way to all live with one another, without a return to segregated communities (or ethnic ghettos)."

Lobbyists for and against the niqab already have submitted some 60 recommendations to Quebec politicians as they parse the bill in committee before members of Quebec's legislative assembly vote on it.

It is unlikely the bill will be voted into law before the end of the current legislative session on June 11.

Among the first to testify before the committee, Jean Tremblay, mayor of Saguenay, Quebec, said the niqab is "unacceptable" in Quebec.

Dominique Peschard, president of the League of Rights and Freedoms, however, denounced the proposed law as "useless."

He told AFP it "wrongs a small group of believers on the fringes of Quebec society -- women who wear the niqab," who will be "ostracized."

A Toronto group calling itself "Kill Bill 94" organized online protests to the Quebec law, arguing that the measure runs the risk of "depriving all women of social services, employment, access to healthcare and education, and on top of that creating a climate of shame and fear."

Even though the controversial act would only be applied in Quebec, the debate is being watched closely elsewhere in the country.

According to an Angus Reid poll in March, 80 percent of 1,004 Canadians surveyed support the initiative, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper also has deemed a "reasonable" measure.

Ratifying the law would create a precedent, imposing limits on constitutionally protected religious freedoms in Canada, a multicultural nation that welcomes some 250,000 immigrants annually.

© 2010 AFP

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