Quebec report upholds right to wear hijab

The Muslim hijab. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s no real threat to Quebec values. And most women here wear it by choice, not because of coercion. That’s what the Bouchard-Taylor commission has concluded after a year of study costing $5 million.

In the final draft of their report – which was submitted to the provincial government yesterday and is to be made public at a press conference Thursday – scholars Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor say Quebec society will have a lot to lose if it restricts the wearing of the Muslim head scarf strictly to the home and outdoors.

Devout Muslim women suffer intimidation and discrimination in the Quebec job market for wearing the hijab the commissioners say, recounting testimony from several Muslims in public hearings last fall. For example: A young hijab-wearing woman studying to be a pharmacist “saw her job applications rejected by 50 pharmacies before she was finally able to land a job with an Arab pharmacist.”

Bouchard and Taylor talk of some Quebecers’ “often irrational” opposition to the hijab. They quote from a brief submitted to them in November by a woman in Longueuil, when their 17-city tour of the province swung through town: “In 2007, in Quebec, when a Muslim women wears the veil, I tremble,” the woman wrote.

It’s wrong to think that all veiled Muslim women are somehow under a man’s thumb, the commissioners also say. “There’s a strong feminist current among Muslim women. It follows an original path and is a model that differs from Quebec feminism. It goes along with the wearing of the head scarf.”

Montreal Gazette, 20 May 2008