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  • Writer's pictureJohn Stackhouse

Face Coverings in Public? Civil Rights Aren’t Enough

A few times now I have criticized the public regulation of face coverings such as has been imposed this week by the Quebec government: here in the Vancouver Sun, here for “Context,” and most recently here for American readers of Religious News Service.

But I don’t feel great about it.

I have no issue with head scarves, of course, whether worn by observant Muslim women on a city bus or by Grace Kelly in a convertible on the Côte d’Azur. But I am always disquieted by the masks of niqabs and burqas.

I recognize, and have defended, women who assert that they freely wear these things, whether to celebrate their heritage, observe standards of modesty, or even signal their sympathies with certain Islamic/Islamist groups. I may not admire that heritage or agree with those standards, and I may despise those groups, but I will defend a Canadian’s right to do as she pleases with what she wears, so long as public safety isn’t compromised.

Leaving aside the political declarations—if you want to say you admire ISIL, go ahead, and the RCMP and CSIS will add you to their lists—it’s the other issues that bother me most because those face coverings also symbolize a heritage of female subjugation. And it pains me to know that many Canadian women feel they must wear these things on pain of ostracism from their communities, disapproval and possibly disinheritance from their parents, violence from their husbands, or even honour killings from their families or in-laws.

Women under such pressures must be helped to escape. They must be offered an adequate range of social services: from initial protection in a shelter for themselves and their children, to welfare, to education and job training, to whatever restraining orders are needed to keep them safe. Support for multiculturalism has never meant we are obligated to let anti-Canadian values fester in our midst.

Language training in one or the other of our official languages must also be mandatory so that girls and women can capably access those services. Exceptions can be made—for elderly immigrants, perhaps, who are living out their last years in the care of their families. But making language training mandatory—and testing language ability for renewal of visas—can actually empower women, for then no parent or spouse can forbid them from receiving it.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]


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