Thursday, April 08, 2010

Face it - How Tolerant Are We?

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?


Angela Addams said...

Well...I think that this is a daring post.

I can see your point and I agree with you. There certainly is a security issue as well as a feminist one. I'm also not surprised that this bill is being proposed in Quebec.

On the other hand, I will be surprised if there isn't backlash and protests as Canada prides itself on being open to multiculturalism, people here are used to being able to live as they want to in whatever way is comfortable for them.

Danielle La Paglia said...

I know when people apply for government services here in the U.S., a person must provide I.D. and the only way to confirm that the I.D. matches the person presenting it, is to expose that person's face. If a woman, for whatever reason, chooses to cover herself in that manner, that's her business, but I have no problem with the government requiring verification of identity.

Diane Girard said...

Well, I am not completely sure that wearing the nqab or the burka should be banned in schools, although I wonder about during examinations. Providing ID and showing one's face should be mandatory for certain services, in my opinion. And I don't think the government should have to provide a female just so that woman's identity can be verified. Looking upon a woman's face, however beautiful she may be, does not mean that a man will leap across a desk at her. In fact that way of thinking insults men.

Anonymous said...

I say that when in another country, one should abide by that country's laws and not expect or demand change because, "that's the way we did it back home."

I'll stay anon on this one.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm with anon on this one. In order to identify a person, you have to SEE the person. Pretty basic. And in this age, a matter of security, unfortunately.

Falcata Times said...

Part of the problem is that for every thing thats available there's someone who will abuse the system. There's been documented cases when men of a certain part of society have "borrowed" their sisters clothing, grabbed thier passport and then escaped a warrant for thier arrest.

I'm not saying its common, but it does and has happened. Society is not tolerant of the masses either, for example I object when a prisoner has more rights than I do. In this case, thier records get lost on a government laptop they get compo. They lose mine on a government laptop and I'm just told to put up with it.

There's a fine line that is hard for politicians to tread as in certain respects certain offshoot splinter groups will probably draw symbolism between these rules and the ruling of a certain near defunct political party of the 1930's in Europe. Its tricky, its difficult but as long as no one is hurt by the ruling and society is looked after as a whole then it should be fair game.