Europe’s high court rules workplace headscarf ban is not ‘direct discrimination’

Hard to see how this policy helps integration. Not as neutral as the Court ruled given that main focus was with respect to the hijab.

Will companies now also police any employee wearing a small crucifix?:

Private businesses in Europe can forbid Muslim women in their employ from wearing headscarves if the ban is part of a policy of neutrality within the company and not a sign of prejudice against a particular religion, the European Court of Justice said Tuesday.

Such a ban doesn’t constitute what Europe’s high court calls “direct discrimination.”

The conclusion by the highest court in the 28-nation European Union was in response to two cases brought by a Belgian and a French woman, both fired for refusing to remove their headscarves. It clarifies a long-standing question about whether partial bans by some countries on religious symbols can include the workplace.

The court’s response fed right into the French presidential campaign, bolstering the platforms of far-right leader Marine Le Pen, a leading contender in the spring election who wants to do away with all “ostentatious” religious symbols in the name of secularism, and conservative François Fillon, who hailed the court’s decisions. France already bans headscarves and other religious symbols in classrooms as well as face-covering veils in streets.

However, critics quickly voiced fears that the decision risks becoming a setback to all working Muslim women.

“Today’s disappointing rulings … give greater leeway to employers to discriminate against women — and men — on the grounds of religious belief,” said a statement by Amnesty International. “At a time when identity and appearance has become a political battleground, people need more protection against prejudice, not less.”

The Open Society Justice Initiative, which submitted a brief supporting the women, expressed disappointment.

“The group’s policy officer, Maryam Hmadoum, contended that the decision “weakens the guarantee of equality that is at the heart of the EU’s antidiscrimination directive,” which the Court of Justice cited in weighing the cases.

The European Court of Justice made separate decisions on the cases, but linked them.

In the Belgian case, Samira Achbita, a receptionist at a security firm, was fired in June 2006 for wearing an Islamic headscarf, banned in a new set of internal rules by her company that prohibited visible signs of their political, religious or philosophical beliefs. Belgium’s Court of Cassation sought guidance from the Luxembourg-based European court which rules on cases involving EU law, which applies to all EU members.

While the cases were linked by the European court, the French case differs and offers Asma Bougnaoui a reason for optimism because the reasons for her dismissal as a design engineer were based, not on internal rules, but on the complaint of a customer unhappy with her Islamic headscarf.

The court said that an employer’s readiness to take into account the wishes of a customer, not internal policy, don’t qualify for the measure set out by the European Union: a “genuine and determining occupational requirement.”

Source: Europe’s high court rules workplace headscarf ban is not ‘direct discrimination’ | Toronto Star


Austria to consider total headscarf ban for public servants – The Globe and Mail

Hard to see how this will assist community relations and integration:

Austria’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Integration Sebastian Kurz said on Friday he wants to ban public servants, including school teachers, from wearing the Islamic headscarf.

Mr. Kurz, of the Christian Conservative People’s Party (OVP), is working on a draft law with Muna Duzdar, a junior minister from the OVP’s senior Social Democrat coalition partner who has an Arab family background and is Muslim.

If passed by Austria’s parliament, the nationwide ban would be stricter than laws in France, where only the full body veil is illegal, or Germany, where the highest court in 2015 restricted lawmakers’ scope to ban teachers from wearing the headscarf.

“Because there (schools), it’s about the effect of role models and the influence on young people. Austria is religion-friendly but also a secular state,” Mr. Kurz said, according to a spokesman.

Christian crosses, widespread in staunchly Catholic Austria, should be allowed in classrooms, Mr. Kurz said, referring to the country’s “historically grown culture.”

An adviser to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said in March companies should be allowed to prohibit staff from wearing the Islamic headscarf but only as part of a general ban on religious and political symbols.

Mr. Kurz is revamping Austria’s integration laws and would also like to include a ban on full body veils and restrictions on the distribution of the Koran by Salafist Muslims, Kurz’s spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for Austria’s most prominent Muslim group, IGGIO, noted that discrimination in the workplace on religious grounds was illegal in Austria and said: “After such a statement, trust is badly shaken.”

She said such a ban would send the wrong signal, not least because working women wearing the headscarf could help overcome deep “patriarchal prejudices.”

Ms. Duzdar, the junior minister, told Reuters a person cannot be discriminated against in the workplace on the grounds of their religion and said she wanted to wait for a final ECJ ruling on the issue before sending the law to parliament.

“I’m open to discussions about this but in reality one cannot pick individual religions. If you discuss religious dress and symbols, you have to speak about all religions. We work on a dialogue with all religious communities,” she said.

Source: Austria to consider total headscarf ban for public servants – The Globe and Mail

Quebec woman told to remove hijab in court appeals for legal clarification on right to wear religious attire

Hard to imagine her not winning this appeal. The hijab is not the niqab where the Supreme Court, in a convoluted ruling, stated should be case-by-case (Supreme Court niqab ruling: Veil can be worn to testify in some cases):

A Montreal woman who was told to remove her hijab by a judge is appealing a ruling that declined to clarify whether Quebecers have a right to wear religious attire in court, her lawyer said Wednesday.

Rania El-Alloul had sought a legal clarification from Quebec Superior Court after she was denied an appearance in a lower court because she was wearing a hijab.

Superior Court Justice Wilbrod Décarie ruled last month that the Quebec court judge’s decision went against the principles of Canadian law protecting freedom of religion.

But he also said that although El-Alloul’s treatment was regrettable, he could not guarantee she would be allowed to wear her hijab during future court appearances.

“Each case must be evaluated in light of the context that exists during the witness’s appearance,” he wrote in his decision.

On Wednesday, one of El-Alloul’s lawyers said this case-by-case approach creates insecurity for his client and anyone else who may need to access the justice system while wearing religious attire.

“She would have to be worried every time whether she’d be heard or not, which might induce her to settle cases she shouldn’t settle or not to go to court,” Julius Grey said in a phone interview.

Grey also believes Décarie erred when he ruled it was out of his jurisdiction to make a declaration on whether all litigants have the right to wear religious attire in court.

“When you have a Charter issue, the procedure should not have the effect of depriving someone of their rights,” he said.

A judge refused to hear El-Alloul’s case against the province’s auto insurance board in February 2015 because of her attire.

El-Alloul refused to remove her hijab and the case was put off. It was ultimately settled when the car was returned.

In a statement, El-Alloul said she wanted more than just confirmation the judge had been wrong.

“It isn’t enough that I have been vindicated,” she said. “It’s so important that the successful resolution of my case ensures that no one is ever humiliated the way I was and deprived of their rights.”

Grey said the appeal likely won’t be heard until late 2017.

Muslim Women’s Clothing: Alia Hogben

Good piece by Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women:

We would agree that clothes are a form of non-verbal communication as they can transmit social signals and identify a person’s class, income, beliefs and employment.

In addition to this kind of cultural norm, they may also communicate religious beliefs. For example, the Amish, the Mennonites, Hasidic Jews and many Muslims express their ideas of modesty by the attire they wear. The rules affect both genders but more emphasis is on women’s dress. For all these women, modesty includes covering their head and their hair, and being physically segregated at certain times or places.

We don’t have to like or agree with the different ways women choose to dress, but surely we can accommodate these choices about clothing as long as they don’t impinge on others, or require onerous accommodation, or become obligatory for all of us.

For example, there is no consensus among Muslims about whether women’s head coverings are mandatory. So any state or country which mandates women’s dress, especially Muslim women’s, is wrong. In the same way, no state should decree that these women should be uncovered.

The burkini is a bathing suit that covers all of the female body except the face. Some communities in France, the land of liberte, egalite et fraternite, have decided that the burkini is incompatible with the values of France. The bikini is now considered more consistent with French values. The burkini apparently threatens French secularism.

However, the bikini has not always illustrated French values. There is a 1957 photograph of a woman in a bikini who is being given a ticket by a policeman for her indecent attire.

A point of interest is that the woman who dons the burkini may still displease the more traditional Muslim males. This is because they would tell her that the profile of her body can be seen and thus her burkini is still not acceptable. She is caught between the “secularists” and the “religious.” Best that she dress as she wishes!

I would plead with the French to pay less attention to women’s clothing and instead deal with the far more serious issues that they have, including immigration, integration, discrimination and identity.

In Canada we are relatively tolerant and accepting of diversity, so that the hijab under the RCMP hat has now become part of the uniform. It became official policy this year. I think the reasoning is that if it does not impede safety or security and does no harm to the wearer or those around, then we can make these accommodations.

However, in Canada, there are some demands for accommodations that I think are unreasonable and to which we should not acquiesce.

The majority of Canadians are willing to accommodate issues around modesty of dress. but related to the attire of women is the demand for gender segregation. Enforced gender segregation as an extension of modesty should not be condoned by any of us, Muslims or non-Muslims. It can be damaging to both men and women.

In my view, that’s accommodation too far.

Why?  Gender segregation can also mean gender stereotyping. For example, women are seen as emotional, men as rational and also more highly sexed. Women, therefore – so goes the rationale – must hide their own sexuality and cover up so as not to “tempt” men. This is patriarchy at its worst, laying the blame and responsibility on women and girls.

There is a false assumption that gender segregation will protect men and women from licentiousness. I don’t think so!

How wise is Einstein: “If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies.”

Denying Quebec woman day in court because she was wearing of hijab went against Canadian law principles: judge

Surprised that the judge, while making the correct ruling in the particular case, refused to make a general ruling that wearing a hijab (or kippa, or turban) is permissible in court. Hard to understand what hypothetical situation he was thinking of:

Seventeen months after a Quebec Court judge told her to remove her hijab in court, Rania El-Alloul has received partial vindication from the justice system, but no guarantee it will not happen again.

In a ruling released this week, Superior Court Justice Wilbrod Décarie writes, “The court has a lot of sympathy for (El-Alloul) and deeply regrets how she was treated.”

Judge Eliana Marengo’s February 2015 refusal to hear El-Alloul in the “secular space” of a courtroom unless she removed her Muslim head scarf flew in the face of a 2012 Supreme Court of Canada decision that a witness was entitled to testify in a face-covering niqab, Décarie found.

But he did not issue the judgment sought by El-Alloul — declaring that her rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been breached and affirming her right to appear in court wearing her hijab.

“Each case is a specific case that has to be evaluated in the context of the witness’s court appearance,” Décarie wrote. “It cannot be declared in advance, absolutely and out of context, that El-Alloul will have the right to wear the hijab during her future appearances before the Court of Quebec. Nobody can predict the future.”

What happens next, I don’t know. I hope no one ever feels what I felt in the past

Julius Grey, one of El-Alloul’s lawyers, called Décarie’s finding “wrong in law and very dangerous.” It opens the door to litigants trying to destabilize a witness by filing motions asking she remove her hijab.

“A person will feel insecure before the courts,” Grey said, adding he favours an appeal.

The lawyer said the issue is important as restrictions on religious dress become more common.

“It’s not a particularly Quebec matter. All over the West there is an unhealthy irritation, I would say, with religious garb, with religious practice, with other customs,” Grey said.

Source: Denying Quebec woman day in court because she was wearing of hijab went against Canadian law principles: judge | National Post

Quebec woman ordered by judge to remove hijab in court seeks clearer rules

Given the ongoing Quebec debates, a declaratory ruling might be helpful:

Rania El-Alloul, the Montreal woman who was asked by a Quebec Court judge to remove her hijab during a hearing in 2015, was back in court Thursday asking a Superior Court justice to clarify the rules governing religious attire in Quebec courtrooms.

Judge Eliana Marengo told El-Alloul during a hearing in February 2015 that she would only hear El-Alloul’s case if she removed her hijab.

At the time, El-Alloul was in court trying to get her car back after it had been seized by Quebec’s automobile insurance board.

Marengo told El-Alloul that a courtroom was a secular space, and she was not suitably dressed.

The judge also compared the hijab to a hat and sunglasses, which would not normally be allowed in court.

The specific rule about attire in Quebec courtrooms simply states that people appearing before judges must be “suitably dressed,” with no further explanation.

The case sparked outrage across the country, with many lawyers offering to represent El-Alloul and people offering money to help cover her legal bills, suggesting that her charter rights had been violated.

Superior Court asked to weigh in on attire

El-Alloul’s lawyers asked Quebec Superior Court Justice Wilbrod Décarie on Thursday for a declaratory judgment — essentially a ruling that would clarify that hijabs and other religious attire are permitted in Quebec courtrooms and that a judge can’t refuse to hear witnesses on that basis.

Julius Grey and Catherine McKenzie argued that such a ruling is necessary so people who wear religious attire know if they can be heard in Quebec courts.

Without a declaration of rights, McKenzie said, “this opens the door to ask people about religious belief because of what they wear on their head.”

She called that a slippery slope.

Mario Nomandin, the lawyer for Quebec’s attorney general, said such a declaration was not needed.

Normandin noted the Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled that the question of religious clothing in court should be treated on a case-by-case basis.

Justice Wilbrod Décarie said he will take the arguments under advisement.

It could be weeks or months before he renders his decision.

Source: Quebec woman ordered by judge to remove hijab in court seeks clearer rules – Montreal – CBC News

RCMP allows Muslim women Mounties to wear hijab

English media finally caught up to the French media on this story (see earlier Le hijab, nouvelle pièce d’équipement des agentes de la GRC)

The Mounties have adopted a new uniform policy to allow female Muslim officers to wear the hijab.

Scott Bardsley, spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, confirmed that RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson recently approved an addition to the uniform policy to allow women officers to wear the head scarf “if they so choose.”

“The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is a progressive and inclusive police service that values and respects persons of all cultural and religious backgrounds,” Bardsley said in an email.

Male members of the Sikh faith have been able to wear the turban as part of the RCMP uniform since the early 1990s, he noted.

That right was won by Baltej Singh Dhillon, a young practising Sikh who wanted to become a Mountie but also wanted to wear a turban on the job.

The federal government’s decision in 1990 to end the ban and allow him provoked emotional debate and widespread protests across Canada.

Bardsley said the new policy is intended to better reflect diversity in Canadian communities and to encourage more Muslim women to consider the RCMP as a career option.

Special RCMP hijab developed

RCMP Staff Sgt. Julie Gagnon said current policy, which came into effect in January 2016, requires an “exemption” to wear the hijab from the commissioner, the only senior officer permitted to approve faith-based accommodations.

Gagnon said the RCMP developed a hijab for applicants or serving female members of the Islamic faith, reflecting “the diversity of the RCMP’s workforce.” It underwent rigorous testing to ensure the design meets “the highest standards of officer safety.”

She said the RCMP currently has no members requesting to wear the hijab on duty.

The only other religious or cultural item allowed is the turban for male officers.

Source: RCMP allows Muslim women Mounties to wear hijab – Politics – CBC News


Le hijab, nouvelle pièce d’équipement des agentes de la GRC

Did not see this in the English language press.

Similar to policies in Edmonton and Toronto and consistent with the 1990 decision to allow Canadian Sikh members of the RCMP to wear a turban:

Dupuis janvier, la Gendarmerie royale du Canada (GRC) offre à ses agentes de confession musulmane le droit de porter le hijab avec leur uniforme.

Le commissaire de la GRC, Bob Paulson, a expliqué dans une note d’information à l’intention du ministre de la Sécurité publique, Ralph Goodale, que cette mesure vise à permettre au corps policier de refléter davantage la diversité culturelle du pays et d’encourager les femmes de confession musulmane à entrer au service de la GRC.

La GRC devient ainsi le troisième corps policier au pays à permettre aux agentes qui le désirent de porter le hijab, après la police de Toronto en 2011 et la police d’Edmonton en 2013, a souligné le commissaire Paulson dans sa note obtenue par La Presse en vertu de la Loi sur l’accès à l’information.

«La décision de permettre le port du hijab avec l’uniforme de la GRC a pour but de mieux refléter la diversité changeante dans nos communautés et à encourager plus de femmes musulmanes à envisager le travail de policier comme option de carrière», affirme Bob Paulson dans cette note datée du 14 janvier.

Il a souligné que trois sortes de hijab ont été testés par les autorités policières au cours des derniers mois et que le hijab qui a été retenu peut s’enlever rapidement, n’est pas encombrant et ne représente donc pas un risque pour l’agente qui décidera de le porter.

 «Les tests ont démontré que le hijab ne réduit en rien l’efficacité d’une agente dans l’exercice de ses fonctions.» – Le commissaire de la GRC, Bob Paulson

À l’étranger, d’autres pays ont aussi décidé de permettre aux policières de porter le hijab dans le cadre de leurs fonctions, notamment la Grande-Bretagne, la Suède et la Norvège, tout comme d’ailleurs certains États américains, a souligné le grand patron de la GRC. Il a rappelé que les Forces armées canadiennes permettent également aux femmes musulmanes de le porter.

Aucune demande pour le moment

En vertu de la Loi sur la Gendarmerie royale, le commissaire de la GRC est le seul haut gradé du corps policier ayant le pouvoir d’accorder des accommodements religieux aux agents. Mais il appert que M. Paulson n’a reçu aucune demande en ce sens pour le port du hijab de la part d’agentes employées de la GRC. «Jusqu’ici, il n’y a pas eu de demande formelle faite par une agente pour porter le hijab lorsqu’elle est en devoir», a d’ailleurs souligné M. Paulson dans sa note, soulignant que les demandes d’accommodements religieux sont traitées au cas par cas.

Toutefois, au cours des deux dernières années, la GRC a reçu quelque 30 demandes d’accommodements pour des raisons culturelles ou religieuses un peut partout au pays. Dans la majorité des cas, il s’agissait de policiers qui réclamaient le droit de porter la barbe, comme l’exige leur religion.

Rappelons que la GRC permet à ses policiers de porter le turban depuis 1990 dans la foulée d’une décision de la Cour suprême du Canada.

Source: Le hijab, nouvelle pièce d’équipement des agentes de la GRC | Joël-Denis Bellavance | Politique canadienne

A French Minister Has Compared Muslim Women to ‘American Negroes’ | TIME

No wonder France has integration problems:

She has apologized for her choice of words, but stands by her general observation.

France’s Minister for Women’s Rights has found herself in hot water after comparing Muslim women who wear their faith’s traditional garments to “American negroes” who supported slavery.

Laurence Rossignol, the government minister, made the remark during a French television interview on Wednesday. She was condemning retailers like H&M and Dolce & Gabbana for their decision to sell product lines designed for Muslim women, saying these firms were “promoting the confinement of women’s bodies,” France 24 reported.

The interviewer noted that some Muslim women in fact choose to wear articles of clothing like burqas and hijabs.

“Of course there are women who choose it,” Rossignol replied. “There were American negroes who were in favor of slavery.”

Rossignol has since expressed remorse for her choice of words, calling it an “error of language” and insisting that she would only use the word negro in the context of slavery, but otherwise she is standing by her observation. She is now the target of a social-media backlash. As of early Thursday morning, a petition demanding that Rossignol face “sanctions” for her language had received more than 15,800 signatures.

Source: A French Minister Has Compared Muslim Women to ‘American Negroes’ | TIME

ICYMI: The Interview: Crime author Ausma Zehanat Khan’s unique lens on Islam

Worth reading, have selected the quote below on the contrast between Canada and the USA:

Q: Do you wear a headscarf?

A: I don’t. No one can visibly identify me as a Muslim woman until the moment that I choose to identify myself, so there is a certain level of protection with that—which is not to say that everybody that I encounter is filled with anti-Muslim hatred, just that there are certain situations where you are aware of it. When I’m in Toronto, and I’m out in public with friends, or my husband, I dress any way I want. Sometimes, as when I’ve just been praying, I will still have my scarf on, and I’ll go out and never think twice about it. I don’t feel the pressure of looks or judgment.

But there have been many, many times here where I’ve felt that; that we’re attracting notice. So we’re careful. We don’t talk about issues in public, certainly not when we’re going to the airport. [laughs] We’re careful about what kind of books we have in public. When I want to pray inside my house, I draw my blinds. Those kinds of small accommodations are because you realize that people have heard negative things about Muslims and associate all Muslims with jihadists, and they’re wary and suspicious of them. And I’ve heard about Islamophobic incidents and attacks, so I’m wary and suspicious of other people, so it’s mutually reinforcing—even when I’m sure the majority of people don’t have those attitudes, just as the vast majority of Muslims are not jihadists. It’s a really sad state of affairs.

Source: The Interview: Crime author Ausma Zehanat Khan’s unique lens on Islam