Universities have till Dec. 20 to submit their positions on the charter


It’s not yet clear which universities would defy Quebec’s proposed values charter, but the positions emerging from the hallowed halls of academia — both francophone and anglophone — are clearly showing a discomfort with the portions of the charter restricting religious symbols and garb.Following McGill University’s condemnation of those sections soon after the charter was introduced in September, the Université de Sherbrooke has now strongly criticized the proposed restrictions via Le Devoir. And the Université de Montréal said a university assembly on Monday adopted a motion saying the charter “doesn’t respond to its needs,” according to spokesperson Mathieu Filion.

Filion said that doesn’t mean U de M is opposed to the charter, and its final position will only be made public in its brief to the commission studying Bill 60.

All of the positions, however, will be established before Christmas.

Quebec’s universities are making their briefs, and checking them twice, in anticipation of the Dec. 20 deadline to submit their positions in order to have a chance to present at the hearings that will begin in Quebec City on Jan. 14. The commission will choose which organizations will have an opportunity to present their briefs in person.

Last month, McGill’s senate and board of governors rejected certain provisions in the proposed legislation, and the school will present a brief and make a request to appear at the hearings, principal Suzanne Fortier said in a statement to the university community.

Both the senate and board adopted resolutions saying they “strongly object to the restrictions on the right to wear religious symbols, as described in the draft legislation, which run contrary to the university’s mission and values.”

Speaking at hearings in Quebec City on Tuesday by the Commission de la culture et de l’éducation, Fortier responded, when asked about the potential impact of the values charter, that McGill has very clear policies on respect, diversity and inclusion, and that the university would like Quebec to be a welcoming place to help attract talent and will definitely ask the government to omit those sections of the charter dealing with restrictions on visible religious symbols.

“The talent in our university could work anywhere,” she said. Anecdotally, she added, stories abound about staff questioning if they should stay or if it is time to leave the province. “People are worried.”

A spokesperson at the Université de Sherbrooke couldn’t confirm the university’s position on the charter, but rector Luce Samoisette told Le Devoir that the charter is not applicable.

She said that in a university setting, you could have absurd situations arise where you have two people working in the same lab, one wearing a head scarf because she is a student, and one not allowed to because she is a salaried employee who is restricted from wearing a hijab.

Concordia University will also have a final position on the charter soon, possibly as early as next week, according to media relations director Chris Mota. The university’s senate is meeting on Friday, and its board of governors is meeting next week.

“The president is getting a lot of feedback on the charter,” said Mota. “Based on all of that, and the meetings, our position will soon be determined.”

What remains to be seen is if any of Quebec’s universities will vote to defy any ban on the wearing of “conspicuous” religious symbols by public employees at work — as the Jewish General Hospital, the English Montreal School Board and, most recently, the town of Hampstead have all vowed to do.

“We will not comply. We will not be complicit with hatred, racism and intolerance,” Hampstead said in its resolution Monday evening.


Twitter: KSeidman

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette



A non-Muslim, I’m wearing a hijab to make a statement

A non-Muslim, I’m wearing a hijab to make a statement

Nora Jaffary is an associate history professor at Concordia University. On, Nov. 8, she started wearing a hijab to work, to signal her principled opposition to the values charter, and as gesture of solidarity with women in the public sector who do wear the hijab to work, and would be affected by the charter.

On the day after the Parti Québécois tabled Bill 60 on Nov. 7, I started wearing a hijab at work, to publicly register my opposition to the proposed values charter. I am not a Muslim. But I am a public-sector worker — an associate professor of history at Concordia University — and as such, a category of worker that would be affected by the charter in my working life.

I already had been considering wearing a hijab for some time, not just to register my opposition to the principle of a values charter but also as a gesture of support for the people that Bill 60 proposes to target. Wearing a hijab — or any other visible religious symbol — also seemed to me to be a potentially effective strategy for defying the charter’s effective implementation, if Bill 60 is ever passed.

I approached this gradually. Before the charter was even tabled, I had bought a scarf that could be draped in a style evoking a hijab. I wore it to and from work, shopping, picking my kids up from school. I felt the effects immediately. Other women who were veiled were more likely to catch my eye in public; almost everyone else, more often than not, looked away. I sensed their discomfort. Or maybe I only imagined this and it was only me who felt uncomfortable.

“I’m not really Muslim,” I felt inclined to tell people. “I’m only doing this to oppose the charter.”

But that felt like cheating. On the day the charter was tabled, I decided it was time to make a stronger commitment — wearing a hijab more consistently, and wearing a proper hijab.

My youngest son, age 5, thought the hijab was fine. “Everyone can wear what they want to,” he said. But my 8-year-old son was clearly uncomfortable when he saw me striding through the classroom toward him.

“Kids are going to make fun of me,” he said. He was right. “My daughter is isolated at this school,” a veiled mom told me when we were standing around in the playground watching the kindergartners line up to go into class. “She has one friend, whose mother is Tunisian. When she’s away from school, my daughter spends the day alone.”

On the first day I wore my hijab to work, people had mixed reactions. Those who didn’t know me didn’t say anything, or really react at all. In fact, it felt kind of normal wearing the hijab at Concordia. The university felt like a less tense place to be wearing a hijab than did the métro or the streets near my home. People who knew me, by contrast, avoided saying anything about it unless I said something about it first. One colleague said: “I thought you were maybe trying to keep your ears warm in the cooler weather.”

I decided that the thing to do was just state what I was doing, every time I saw someone I knew, so they would understand what I was up to, and why.

Every colleague I spoke to was supportive. And since that first day wearing the hijab, I have been wearing it at Concordia, in my workplace, every working day since. Some students seem surprised. I’m not sure if they think this is what a professor should be doing, or if they believe that it is an inappropriate action for a non-Muslim. I suspect they are, understandably, more wary than my colleagues of entering into a political discussion with me about a matter that is not strictly academic.

I told Ada, one of the veiled kindergarten moms, that I was wearing a hijab to work and she said: “I am worried this will be hard for you. Is it dangerous?”

I tell her it really isn’t hard for me (although it can be momentarily awkward, and I find it hard to hear sometimes, especially on the telephone). I have supportive peers. I have the protection of a formidable union. I have cultural capital.

Right now, it seems much harder to be a person who has none of these privileges to be wearing a hijab. It seems much braver for a woman to wear a hijab every day, like Ada, as she says goodbye to her children when they enter a schoolyard where other children are learning to search for and seize upon difference. It seems much more problematic when a hijab might offer a reason for one’s children’s exclusion or isolation.

All of us would do almost anything to make our kids’ lives happier, and easier, and to bring them more success. To not unveil, when one might feel that such things are at stake, is truly brave.

Nora Jaffary is an associate professor of history at Concordia University.


Non-Muslim university professors adopt hijab

Two university professors have taken to wearing the hijab after the introduction of the PQ’s charter. They’re wearing it to open up a discussion. Nora Jaffary and Catherine Lu were in Daybreak’s studio to talk about why they started to wear a hijab.

Click to listen 


Windsor police beat Edmonton in allowing hijabs for uniforms

Edmonton Police Service are receiving increased media attention for their plan to roll out a hijab option on the official EPS uniform, but Windsor Police Service has recently implemented a similar policy without much attention.

In a media release posted to their website earlier this week, EPS explained that several prototypes are being tested to “ensure officer safety and other considerations.”

“It is important that anyone who has a calling to serve and protect Edmontonians, and who passes rigorous police training standards feel welcome and included in the EPS,” said the release. “In the coming weeks, the Edmonton Police Service will provide the public and media with additional information about the prototype and details around the dress policy and its possible roll-out.”

The decision to implement the hijab option has brought with it an outpouring of support and condemnation from various members of the public, with social media being a main avenue for both supporters and detractors to share their opinions.

“EPS are looking at Hijab prototypes for female officers who want to wear one,” tweeted Travis Purdy, who goes by the Twitter handle ‏@soundmixerman. “LIKE [expletive]! NO WAY. bullshit.”

“#YEG @edmontonpolice leads as an example of inclusion, equality and respect for Muslim women who wear hijab. #reasonsthisishome,” tweeted Aisha, ‏@AishaQ_Q, in support of the measure.

Closer to home, Windsor Police Sevice has recently implemented a similar policy which updated the 2011 Human Rights Project.

The Human Rights Project’s main purpose was to develop and implement initiatives towards identifying, eliminating and preventing any possible discrimination and or racism in the police department’s employment practices and service delivery.

“WPS Human Rights Project recent policy changes allow officers to wear the hijab & other religiously significant articles,” explained Sgt. Pamela Mizuno via her Twitter handle @PamMizuno.

Sgt. Pamela Mizuno explained that recent policy changes in Windsor allows for officers to wear religious and spritually significant articles.

“We did a review of our policy to try and be inclusive and also to prevent any discrimination within our service, as was the mission of the project,” said Mizuno. “As a result of that, we had some changes to our dress and grooming policy.”

Police officers may wear articles like turbans, hijabs or yamukles, however, such articles would need to comply with Windsor Police uniform standards, which include being of a certain colour.

As of yet, there hasn’t been an officer of the Windsor Police Service who has taken advantage of the change to policy.

“I know the Toronto Police Service has an auxiliary member who wears a hijab,” said Mizuno, who noted that she also believes there is an officer who wears a turban as well.

“The policy change hasn’t been widely publicized,” said Mizuno, who explained that at the conclusion of the Human Rights Project there would be an annual report drafted and circulated. “The service has been making efforts to become more culturally diverse through recruiting efforts.”

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, a police service which works to accommodate religious attire in uniforms could provoke “a reaction among some people who think this is an affront to police unity and policing customs that undermines morale.”

While the Toronto Police Service implemented a similar policy before Windsor, Windsor has been near the forefront of tackling multicultural issues.

Windsorite Wafa Dabbagh joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1996 as the first Muslim woman to do so wearing a hijab. She eventually rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander.


Edmonton Police Service working to incorporate hijab into uniform


A new uniform piece could ‘open doors’ for women of other cultures looking to begin a career with the Edmonton Police Service.

At an Edmonton Police Commission meeting Thursday it was revealed that EPS is working on introducing a hijab option to the uniform.

Natasha Goudar with the Equity, Diversity and Human Rights Unit said the conversation started when a recruiter was asked if EPS would “ever even consider allowing someone to wear a hijab.”

Goudar says officers have been working closely with various Muslim communities, talking to Imams about cultural implications and requirements.

“One of the big concerns for them was an educational element to the introduction of the hijab. They didn’t want to just bring it in and have it sit on a shelf,” she told the commission.

Goudar added that so far news of the new uniform piece is having a positive impact on young women in Muslim communities.

Those wearing a hijab, who thought a career in policing was out of reach because of their cultural practices are not seeing it as a tangible goal, she said.

“One young lady told me that she couldn’t wait to pass this along to her sister, who didn’t think it was possible because she wore a hijab. Now it’s an option,” she said.

“We started that conversation, and we’re hopeful we’re going to have a recruit wearing one soon.”

The head scarf would be black in colour, and sit underneath the standard issued Edmonton police hat.

It’s projected that the hijab could be ready to go in spring or summer 2014, Goudar said.

Newly appointed city councillor Scott McKeen was also sworn in as a member of the Edmonton Police Commission Thursday, and said he was impressed and proud of the work Goudar and her team have done.

He added that given the lengths that Quebec has gone to ban the cultural headpieces, the progress seen Thursday was even more impressive.

“This is coming at a time when another province is going in another direction,” he told the commission.

“For that reason, I’m most certainly impressed.”

The proposed Quebec Charter of Values threatens to forbid Quebec’s public employees from wearing visible religious symbols — including hijabs, turbans, yarmulkes and larger-than-average crucifixes.

It wasn’t that long ago that RCMP officers were prohibited from wearing turbans, a ban was lifted by the Canadian government in 1990 allowing members to don the cultural headpieces.




Edmonton police plan to offer hijab option for female Muslim officers

Brace yourself for a spirited and, at times, probably uncivil debate as Edmonton police prepare to introduce a hijab option for its uniform in a bid to recruit Muslim women.

The National Post reports the Edmonton Police Service plans to include the hijab as optional headgear as early as next year.

“Several prototypes have been created and are now being tested to ensure officer safety and other considerations,” the department said in an news release.

“It is important that anyone who has a calling to serve and protect Edmontonians, and who passes rigorous police training standards feel welcome and included in the EPS.”

While much of Alberta is typically thought of as having very conservative values, it should be noted that Edmonton historically is not as conservative as the rest of the province, regularly electing Liberals and New Democrats to Parliament, as well as the provincial legislature.

[ Related: Montreal professors don hijab to protest secular charter ]

And for the record, it’s not the first Canadian police service to introduce the headscarf worn by many devout Muslim women. The Toronto Police Service opened the door to hijab-wearing officers in 2011 and has actively worked at recruiting female Muslims to the force, QMI Agency reported at the time.

To be fair, the force didn’t exactly trumpet that change. A subsequent news release on the swearing in of new auxiliary police officers buried the fact recruit Mona Tabesh was “the first woman to wear a hijab in a Toronto Police Service uniform.”

Toronto’s initiative drew a predictable reaction from traditionalists. Toronto Sun guest columnist David Menzies saw it as political correctness, an unreasonable extension of reasonable accommodation to the city’s multicultural reality.

“Indeed, just how far do we take reasonable accommodation in the police department?” Menzies wrote.

“Do Muslim police officers reserve the right not to work with the Canine Unit, given that many Muslims consider dogs ‘unclean?’ Will ham sandwiches be banned from police stations due to dietary restrictions?”

Edmonton Councillor Scott McKeen called his city’s initiative a “gesture of inclusion” toward the local Muslim community that sometimes feels “skittish” at times because of Islamophobia.

“One of the perceptions about Edmonton and Alberta is that we’re kind of redneck,” McKeen told thePost.

Offering the hijab as an option for police recruits, especially in the absence of any political pressure, “is sort of saying we want to have a diverse police service that reflects the diversity and multicultural aspects of Edmonton…. I’m proud of us.”

McKeen observed the decision is in striking contrast to Quebec’s move, via its proposed values charter, to bar the hijab and other overt religious symbols from being worn by public servants.

[ Related: 6 niqab legal controversies in Canada ]

The move is a “natural evolution” for policing in Canada, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims Ihsaan Gardee told the Post, comparing it to the introduction of the Sikh turban to the RCMP uniform in 1990.

That change triggered heated debate at the time and still rankles in some quarters, but most people now take it for granted.

Muslim policewomen in London, England’s Metropolitan Police Force have been allowed to wear a hijab since 2001.

“We know of many Muslim women who had thought of joining the Met, only to be put off when they were told they could not wear the hijab,” Mahammad Mahroof, of the Association of Muslim Police told theGuardian at the time. “Hopefully, having this option will encourage more to become police officers.”

Other British police forces have since implemented the change.

“The move is seen as a further sign of official acceptance of Britain as a religiously diverse society where faith-related accommodations should be made for all individuals,” says a Facebook page on the topic.

In Canada, Canada Border Services Agency and the armed forces permit the hijab as part of the uniform.

Read more 



Abercrombie & Fitch pays out $71,000 to settle lawsuits over hijabs

Clothing retailer will now make religious accommodations and allow staff to wear head scarves
  • Associated Press in San Francisco
A Muslim woman wearing a hijab.

The hijab is one style of Muslim female headwear. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch has agreed to make religious accommodations and allow workers to wear head scarves as part of a settlement of discrimination lawsuits filed in California, lawyers announced Monday.

The retailer will now allow hijabs, the traditional head scarves worn by many Muslim women when in public.

One judge determined that the Ohio-based company fired a Muslim worker from a California store, while another judge said it refused to hire another woman in the state, because of their refusal to remove their hijabs during work. The rulings came after the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed lawsuits on behalf of both women.

In court papers filed on Friday, Abercrombie agreed to pay the women a combined $71,000 and unspecified attorney fees. Additionally, it has established an appeals process for workers who believe they were denied religious accommodations.

“Abercrombie & Fitch does not discriminate based on religion, and we grant reasonable religious accommodations when they are requested,” the company said, in a statement. “With respect to hijabs, in particular, we determined three years ago to institute policy changes that would allow such headwear.”

Abercrombie will pay Hani Khan $48,000 after firing her four months after she began working in the company’s San Mateo store in 2009. She had been allowed to wear a hijab that matched the company’s colors until a district manager visited the store in February 2010 and saw her for the first time in a hijab. Khan was fired soon after, when the company determined hijabs violated the company’s “look policy” and detracted from its brand, the lawsuit stated.

“It wasn’t about the money,” Khan, 23, said at a San Francisco news conference. “It was a matter of principle.” Khan recently graduated from college and is looking for work.

Halla Banafa will receive $23,000 to settle her lawsuit, which alleged Abercrombie discriminated by refusing to give her a job at its Milpitas store in 2008, when she was 18. Banafa didn’t attend the press conference.

Khan’s trial had been scheduled to begin in Oakland on 30 September. A judge previously found that Abercrombie was liable for discrimination and all that was left for jurors to decide was how much Abercrombie should pay and what it needed to do to rectify the policy.

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