Canada: Muslim Teacher Told to Remove Hijab Under Québec Secularism Law

This picture taken on November 30, 2012 shows mannequins with the latest styles of headscarfs or 'hijab' on display outside a shop in downtown Kuala Lumpur. A Malaysian 'hijab', also called a tundung, is a head covering or scarf a woman can wear in public as a symbol of her …
SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images

A Muslim teacher has been told to remove her hijab or be turned away from a position under the province’s new secularism law.

Catherine Beauvais-St-Pierre, president of the Alliance of Teachers of Montréal, said that at least one new teacher in the province was told by her school board to remove her hijab or not be hired, CBC reports.

According to Beauvais-St-Pierre, the new law, which bans public sector workers from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs, turbans, or crucifixes in the workplace, “opens a door to certain consequences”.

She added that the law comes as many school boards across the province face labour shortages, saying that many of the teachers could end up in the private sector as the law does not cover private schools.

According to the Pointe-de-l’Île School Board (CSPI), located in Montréal, two teachers were not hired because they refused to take off their religious attire.

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge, a member of the ruling populist-conservative Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ/ Future Coalition of Québec), defended the law saying: “The law is the law, and we will apply the law. Each school board has the obligation to apply the law.”

While the secularism law is the first of its kind in Canada, such laws are not uncommon in certain countries in Europe, particularly France where state secularism — known in France as Laïcité — is the norm and religious symbols are banned for public school teachers as well.

The push for secularism in Québec has been contrasted, according to anthropologist Géraldine Mossière, by a rise in non-religious young people adopting Islamic customs, primarily women in Montréal.

Mossière claims that many of the women refrain from eating pork and even celebrate Ramadan, saying: “Sometimes they do it in solidarity with their Muslim friends. Those who do not go to conversion see Muslim practices as personal development, such as yoga or meditation.”

The question of whether there might be pressure to conform to Islamic norms in certain areas does not appear to have received extensive consideration.

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