Toronto: After France, Muslim women have been banned from wearing niqab in Canada's French-speaking Quebec province.
A bill tabled on Wednesday will not allow government services to women wearing the niqab.
The bill comes after protests triggered by an Egyptian immigrant's refusal to remove her niqab in her French languages classes in Montreal, forcing the school and the provincial government to throw her out.
The college says the Muslim woman was given the front seat in the class so that all male students sat behind her. She was even allowed to make presentations from the rear of the classroom with her back to the class which had three male and 17 female students.
However, students and the college authorities were shocked when one day the woman asked male students to move away from her and refused to sit with them around a U-table to converse and learn French pronunciation.
Three weeks ago, the woman, a mother of three, moved the provincial human rights commission as the government toughed its stand on the niqab.
The government last week ordered that every niqab-clad woman must uncover her face to confirm her identity when applying for her medicare card. Wednesday's bill will be the first such step in North America to curtail any religious dress.
According to the bill, women seeking medical and auto insurance services will have to remove their veil, adding that face coverings will not be tolerated in people's dealings with government officials.
Speaking to the media, Quebec Premier Jean Charest said the step was needed for maintaining gender equality and secular character of public institutions.
"This (bill) is a symbol of affirmation and respect - first of all, for ourselves, and also for those to whom we open our arms. This is not about making our home less welcoming, but about stressing the values that unite us.”
"An accommodation cannot be granted unless it respects the principle of equality between men and women, and the religious neutrality of the state,'' the premier said.
Canadian Muslim leaders called the bill a "knee-jerk'' reaction. Canada has about one million Muslims in its population of 34 million, and their population is expected to triple in the next two decades.
Though a majority of Canadian Muslim women don't wear the hijab or niqab, the veil is now quite visible in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver where most Muslim immigrants live.
First Published: Thursday, March 25, 2010, 10:04