One morning recently, a young Muslim woman whose face was hidden by a religious covering was pulled out of her government French class near Montreal and told to unveil or leave the course.
“Aisha,” a 25-year-old permanent resident from India, is the second such case to come to light in Quebec. Last month, the same ultimatum was given to Naema Ahmed, an Egyptian-born woman whose case sparked an uproar and led to landmark provincial legislation against religious face veils.
But, while Ms. Ahmed was portrayed in media accounts as difficult to accommodate, Aisha, as she has asked to be called to shield her identity, didn’t make waves.
According to former classmates and officials at the suburban centre she attended, the young woman was a model student who placed no demands on others and even teamed up with male students for class assignments.
“She was an excellent student. I saw in this woman a will to integrate,” said Mustapha Kachani, executive director of the Centre d’intégration multi-services de l’Ouest de l’Île.
The Immigration Department’s assertion that her veil, or niqab, posed a problem for “pedagogical” reasons was unfounded, Mr. Kachani said.
“She demonstrated great diligence in the course, in addition to actively participating in class, all the while articulating very well,” he wrote in a letter to Immigration Department officials and copied to Quebec Immigration Minister Yolande James. “The decision upset the whole class.”
Update: See also Montreal Gazette, 12 April 2010