I'm prompted to ask myself how tolerant I am, how tolerant the average Canadian is , and when and if we should not tolerate differences. Over the last few days I've thought about this a lot. Why? Because the province of Quebec is introducing Bill 94. This legislation will require that people uncover their faces for purposes of "security, communication and identification," when they want to receive government services (schools and universities included). The bill does not mention the niqab or the burka; however, Muslims who wear them are the group who would be affected and, I suppose, anyone wearing a balaclava. From what I have read, there are not a lot of Muslim women in Quebec who would have to adjust to the proposed changes. I don't think the number matters, although it has been argued that since the legislation would impact only a few women, they should be accommodated instead of changing the law.
I understand the reason for wearing a head scarf/hijab and the reason some Orthodox Jewish women wear wigs. And, I can understand being made to wear a head covering when singing in a Catholic church as a sign of respect for another religion (yes, it was a long time ago). But concealing one's face with a niqab is not a religious requirement, nor is wearing a burka.
The burka with an eye screen completely effaces a person and frankly, I find that spooky. I don't know who is in there. And, I don't understand why any woman would voluntarily make such a choice. Modesty is one thing - complete abdication of individuality is another. The nijab is only marginally less self-negating. Also, maybe because I lived in a big city for so long, I am more conscious of security matters. A garment that conceals everything is the perfect place to hide things and, it should be noted, the perfect way to blame Muslims for an attack. I'm sure there are many ways to obtain a burka. Paranoia, too much imagination? - perhaps.
It's interesting that The Canadian Muslim Congress supports the proposed legislation. The Quebec government argues that the law would not contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights, but some lawyers say that it will.
It seems to me that makes sense to know who the government is giving services to and most of us rely on our vision to help us make decisions. Does this mean there are limits to multicultural tolerance? It may. I wonder if David Lepofsky, a well-known lawyer who often comments on rights issues and who happens to be blind, will comment on this issue.
What do you think?