MONTREAL - After months of balancing a woman's religious beliefs with her desire to learn French, the Quebec government stepped into her classroom to offer an ultimatum: take off the niqab or drop the course.
The woman opted to keep her Islamic face-covering and has filed a human-rights complaint against the government.
In a province where the government frequently faces accusations of doing too much to accommodate minorities, these actions have prompted a fair bit of praise.
The woman began taking a French course designed for immigrants at a Montreal college in February but she refused to remove her niqab while men were present.
The college was initially willing to accommodate her, but eventually balked as her demands escalated.
According to a report in a Montreal newspaper, she was allowed to give an oral with her back to the class and asked men to move so they wouldn't face each other.
The breaking point occurred when the woman again refused to take off the niqab, though teachers had stressed it was essential they see her face to correct her enunciation and facial expressions.
In what appears to be a highly unusual move, provincial Immigration Minister Yolande James intervened. Officials from her department, acting with the minister's knowledge, met with the woman to discuss her options.
"The government has specific pedagogical objectives in its French courses," said James's spokesman, Luc Fortin.
"We couldn't accept that these objectives, or the learning environment in the class, be compromised."
Several groups, including several teachers' unions, applauded the government for drawing a line in the sand. So did moderate Muslim groups.
"When people come to Canada we're not coming to the Islamic Republic of Canada," said Raheel Raza, a Muslim women's-rights activist who has argued for a public ban on religious face coverings.
"We are coming here because we want that freedom, we want the separation of church and state."
The question that needs to be asked is how accommodating do we need to be for those that are new here. This is the boundary where multiculturalism runs into problems because there is a culture that defines the country and values that people find important.
Here is an article I saw in the news today:
New Quebec law: Uncover your face if you want to deal with provincial government