Citizenship put on hold for ‘no-handshake’ Muslim boys – SWI

Another example of an accommodation issue (in this case, I would side with the authorities):

The family of the two teenagers, who refused to shake their female teachers’ hands for religious reasons, have had their application for citizenship suspended. Shaking hands with the teacher before and after class is often standard practice in Switzerland.

A spokesperson for the local security authorities said that the office for migration in canton Basel Country would be speaking to family members individually, and that it was not unusual for an application to be suspended while additional information was gathered.

The spokesperson said that the interview would be open-ended, and that the family’s immigration status would only be decided based upon their answers to the questions posed during the interview process. After this it would be decided how the application process should proceed. Precise appointment dates are not known.

The 14- and 16-year old brothers are Muslim, and do not want to touch women in general, for religious reasons. The younger of the two said in a newspaper interview that he had discovered this rule in an internet sermon.

The head teacher of the school attended by the two boys arranged that they would not shake hands with any of the teachers. However, this led to a public outcry as news spread in the Swiss press, and justice minister Simonetta Sommaruga publicly criticised the decision, arguing that the handshakes are part of Swiss culture.


The decision to suspend the application process for citizenship and summon all family members for individual interviews was said to have been taken last week. It is not known how many of the children are applying to become Swiss, along with their parents.

The cantonal education authorities have meanwhile ordered a legal opinion on how and if etiquette can be enforced. Several motions have been filed in the local parliament that focus on banning special arrangements made for religious reasons.

Source: Citizenship put on hold for ‘no-handshake’ Muslim boys – SWI


Contracts trump culture — Iranian woman doesn’t have to return dowry after leaving marriage: Ontario court

Rule of law prevails, appropriately without accommodation:

Reliance on cultural norms is no substitute for explicit contract language when giving a gift or transferring property, Ontario’s top court ruled Wednesday.

The decision comes in the case of a young Iranian couple in Ottawa whose marriage fell apart after the bride received a dowry — also known as a mahr — from the groom’s family.

“A wide variety of cultures and their norms and traditions form an integral part of the Canadian mosaic,” the Appeal Court ruled.

“They cannot simply be imported into a transaction involving the transfer of real property by reference to a concept such as ‘dowry,’ which forms a part of a particular culture or tradition.”

A wide variety of cultures and their norms and traditions form an integral part of the Canadian mosaic

Ahmad (Reza) Abdollahpour and Shakiba Sadat Banifatemi married in Ottawa in March 2012. According to Iranian custom, his family gave the bride a dowry that included a 50 per cent stake in a house they owned. They transferred the ownership by way of a deed of gift.

After they separated in December 2013, Abdollahpour and his family wanted the property back. Banifatemi refused and the Abdollahpours sued.

The groom’s family argued the transfer was part of the dowry and that Iranian culture and tradition dictated that Banifatemi would have to return the gift if she left the marriage.

A year ago, Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Smith sided with the former bride, prompting the former groom and family to appeal. They argued Smith was wrong to find the gift was given unconditionally.

In upholding the ruling, the Appeal Court noted the two families had negotiated the property transfer before the marriage — after receiving independent legal advice — — and that the lawyer for the groom’s family described the transfer as a “wedding gift to both kids.” In addition, the deed of gift, which was formally registered, stated that the groom’s family was transferring “irrevocably” the property to the bride.

As such, the Ontario Court of Appeal concluded, everything pointed to an intention by both sides that the transfer was both irrevocable and unconditional, and that there was no indication of any expectation of a return if the marriage broke down.

It simply isn’t good enough, the Appeal Court concluded, to insist after the fact that cultural expectations formed part of an agreement unless explicitly noted, or that merely listing a gift as part of a dowry is sufficient to create an implied set of conditions related to traditional norms.

Source: Contracts trump culture — Iranian woman doesn’t have to return dowry after leaving marriage: Ontario court

Harper wants to ‘examine’ ban on niqab in public service and the ‘duty to accommodate’

Beyond playing identity politics on the issue, there is a need for a more substantive discussion, based upon evidence (including the data on the religious affiliation of public servants as in my background note Religious Minorities in the Public Service) and how the “duty to accommodate” policy would be applied in the case of a request (and how any previous requests – if they exist – were handled).

Any request would not just be handled at the working level but would most likely involve HR officials and more senior officials and would likely emerge into the public domain.

A quick review of TBS’s Duty to accommodate guide for managers shows it largely focuses on accommodation for persons with disabilities, with little guidance with respect to religious accommodation. The Canadian Human Rights Commission and provincial equivalents provide more guidance and examples, but no examples of niqabs or gender-based segregation based upon my quick review (corrections welcome).

And a reminder, the duty to accommodate does not mean agreeing to the specific request or the specific form of accommodation requested:

A re-elected Conservative government would “examine” whether to prohibit public servants from wearing the face-covering garment known as the niqab, leader Stephen Harper said Tuesday.

“That’s a matter we’re going to examine,” Harper told Rosemary Barton during an interview on CBC’s Power & Politics Tuesday. “Quebec, as you know, has legislation on this. We’re looking at that legislation.”

The prime minister was referring to Bill 62, introduced by Quebec’s Liberal government in June, which contains measures to prohibit public servants from wearing niqabs in provincial offices.

Harper’s notion earned swift denunciations.

“Stephen Harper is trying to play politics with sensitive issues. It smacks of political manipulation,” said Paul Dewar, the incumbent NDP candidate in Ottawa Centre.

Catherine McKenna, the Liberal candidate in Ottawa Centre, agreed. “The niqab in the public service is not a serious issue, it’s a diversion tactic.”

Ron Cochrane, co-chairman of the National Joint Council, called it an “example of Harper trying to create a problem where there isn’t one now.”

“If there are people who wear the niqab providing services to Canadians, no one has ever complained about their dress, so why is he making it an issue when it hasn’t been before?”

“This election is too important to be distracted by Mr. Harper’s questionable tactics,” said Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. “Unlike this prime minister, we respect the rule of law and our focus is on defending our ability to deliver essential public services to Canadians.”

The niqab issue has become a hot-button election topic in recent days, as the Federal Court of Appeal rejected the government’s application for a stay of a Federal Court decision in favour of a Muslim woman, Zunera Ishaq, who wants to wear a niqab during her citizenship ceremony.

Source: Harper wants to ‘examine’ ban on niqab in public service | Ottawa Citizen

We need skilled footwork around religious freedom, gender equity: Sheema Khan

Further to my earlier post (Girl players leave high school soccer game after complaints from Muslim boys’ team), Sheema Khan on religious reasonable accommodation. A somewhat meandering piece, and her conclusion, in calling for “wisdom and aplomb” is harder in practice than in theory. But nevertheless to be aimed for:

In 2007, a Montreal synagogue paid for a neighbouring YMCA to replace its windows with frosted glass, so that the synagogue’s male students would not be distracted by spandex-clad women exercising next door. Once YMCA members found out, a protest ensued, adding fuel to a fiery Quebec debate about religious accommodation that continues unabated to this day.

In the soccer case, teams should abide by ROPSSAA regulations, or forfeit a match from the outset when gender equity is an issue. Teams must accept the forfeit, rather than maximize goal output at the expense of female teammates.

There will probably be further collisions between religious freedom and gender equity. Each should be handled on a case-by-case basis, guided by Charter principles, with wisdom and aplomb, without recourse to incendiary language or political demagoguery.

We need skilled footwork around religious freedom, gender equity – The Globe and Mail.

Veiled Women Need Not Apply « The Dish

Interesting US reasonable accommodation case with respect to the hijab and Abercrombie & Fitch (the company, while allowing a yarmulke, argued against the hijab):

The company has changed its dress code since then, but it’s fighting this case on the ground that it didn’t deny her a religious accommodation because she didn’t ask for a religious accommodation. That is, it had a dress code that applied to everyone, and she violated it, so she was treated like anyone else who fails to comply with the dress code, not subjected to discrimination based on religion.

If she’d asked for an accommodation based on religion, the company would have had to make some conscious decision about whether an exception to the usual rule could be made. Without having been given that chance, the company argues, there’s no discrimination, the company says. The EEOC, which brought the case on behalf of Elauf, doesn’t want the burden to bring up religion to rest entirely on the employee.

Veiled Women Need Not Apply « The Dish.

How much government accommodation can you expect because of religion or a disability? – Canada – CBC News

Good reporting and discussion on reasonable accommodation issues and practices following the recent CBSA accommodation for Hindu priests visiting Canada:

From [Karen] Busby’s [director of the Centre for Human Rights Research at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg] perspective, the situation involving the request from the Hindu priests doesn’t appear to enter into the realm of creating an undue hardship.

But she says there is a different principle that could apply in such a situation, and that is whether the accommodation made is “contrary to fundamental Canadian values.”

“That’s a trickier question I think, and its something that’s not well defined in law.”

She also suggests the airport case is somewhat similar to one that arose at York University in Toronto earlier this year.In that case, a male Muslim students request not to work with women sparked controversy.

But one element of that story that was often lost, she observes, is that “when there was a little push put on him, he said Of course I will work with women.”

There are times, she says, “when Canadian values say if youre going to be in public life, in some way, you need to be able to interact with men and women.”

Also good reporting on how Service Canada and Service Ontario accommodate religious concerns regarding head coverings and gender (largely sensibly).

How much government accommodation can you expect because of religion or a disability? – Canada – CBC News.

New Policy Accommodating Sikh Kirpan at Canadian Missions Abroad

Another application of the Supreme Court’s Multani decision (allow Sikh children to carry the kirpan at school). Reasonable accommodation and responding to community concerns. Timing of announcement, of course, is political (on Vaisakhi)

Will be interesting to see if any commentary on this decision outside of Quebec:

Visitors to Canadian missions who declare themselves to be Sikhs will be permitted to retain their kirpans when entering the missions, provided their kirpans are secured within a sheath, attached to a fabric belt and worn under clothing across the torso. They should also be in possession of the four other Sikh articles of faith.

New Policy Accommodating Sikh Kirpan at Canadian Missions Abroad.

Chris Selley: Pauline Marois’ alternate reality, Farzana Hassan’s Endorsement of the Charter

Good summary by Chris Selley of some of the reasonable accommodation issues that have arisen in Quebec over the past years, and a reminder that the proposed Charter would not address any of them:

But finally, this week, Mr. Couillard seemed to gain some traction. “If the PQ is saying you can’t work with something on your head that doesn’t please certain people, the logical conclusion is that you will be fired if you don’t do it,” he said. Indeed. Also: If you lower the speed limit on Highway 401 from 100 to 90, people might get tickets for going 100. Also: If you mandate a six-month minimum sentence for people who grow six marijuana plants, people might get six-month sentences for growing six marijuana plants. See how this works?

The incoherence is to some extent understandable. Like all effective wedge policies, the PQ’s secularism charter invites people to project content, motivations and outcomes on to it that aren’t really there. Janette Bertrand thinks it will prevent rich Muslims from taking over private swimming pools and barring women from them. Commentator Tarek Fatah thinks it will combat “Saudi-based Islamism” — which it theoretically might, if indeed Saudi-based Islamists are “us[ing] the freedom of religion clauses enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ‘impose their political agenda’ in Quebec,” but which hardly explains it targeting Jews and Sikhs as well.

Chris Selley: Pauline Marois’ alternate reality | National Post.

And Farzana Hassan’s different take in The Sun, similar to Tarek Fatah’s (I say ‘Vote PQ to save Canada’!).

While I can understand the visceral fear some have given past experience in their country of origin (and have spent enough time in Saudi Arabia and Iran to appreciate this), I can’t understand just how far Tarek and Farzana take this fear.

For example, the nurse who took my blood sample this week wore a hijab. She works in a mixed environment, provides service to women and men, and whether or not she chooses to wear a hijab is irrelevant, as it is for others who provide public services of other faiths who wear a kippa, turban, or cross.

Part of our national identity includes religious freedom, subject of course to the balance of other freedoms, and religious “headgear” is largely not a problem (apart from the niqab):

Many religious people do not feel obliged to wear or display their religious symbols at work, one of the exceptions being devout Muslims, who have distinct religious attire they consider mandatory.

In fact, the Quebec charter seems mainly aimed at fundamentalist Muslims, who often seek to advance a political agenda rather than simply express pious serenity through their dress.

In my view, invoking the notwithstanding clause to counter this assertive religiosity is desirable.

Using the Quebec values charter would help check the spread of patriarchal values and the virtual segregation of women.

If you are a hijabi or niqabi worried about this, rest assured Islam does not mandate the veiling of women.

Marois may appear xenophobic to some and a liberator to others, but her nationalistic zeal has shown Canada a way to preserve its own identity.

The rest of Canada should also move to ban such religious symbols from public display.

Sun News : Quebec’s values charter is a good idea.


York University professor too quick to denounce sexism in refusing student’s request to avoid women in class: rights advisor

While I have a lot of respect for David Seljack, and his work and that of Paul Bramadant were very helpful to the Multiculturalism program in developing greater awareness and sensitivity to religious diversity, I think he doesn’t quite have the balance of rights question right in the context of a diverse society that needs a certain degree of integration to function well.

“First question is ask the student what is his religious belief and why does it not allow him to interact with women. If the student said, as many people have implied, [his] religion feels that women are dirty, women are inferior, I cannot mingle with them, then Dr. Grayson should have immediately denied him the accommodation… If he just said it’s a question of modesty, or this is the way my religious group has decided to protect itself from what we see as an over-sexualized youth culture in Canada, or simply, this is how we assert our religious identity, then you weigh it, not against the imagined rights, or the principle of gender equality, but the real impact on the rest of the students in the class…  Instead, Dr. Grayson decided to go public and discuss this in large ideological terms, rather than on the specific merits of the individual case.”

The same question arises: what makes gender discomfort more acceptable as a reason for accommodation than racial discomfort? I think the broader framing of the issue has merit, as we always need a framework to assess how well individual accommodation decisions conform to the broader policy and societal objectives.

York University professor too quick to denounce sexism in refusing student’s request to avoid women in class: rights advisor | National Post.

Reasonable Accommodation and the Niqab – Quebec Ruling

Good example where an administrative tribunal made the right call in refusing an accommodation, in this case, for a medical examination required to justify an ongoing disability claim.