The Egyptian immigrant made headlines last week when it was revealed provincial Immigration Department officials expelled her from a government-sponsored French class several months ago after she refused to take off her niqab.
Known only as Naema in Quebec media, she had since enrolled in another government-sponsored French class, this time at a community centre for immigrants in Montreal. But almost as soon as the Quebec government got word she was attending class in her niqab, it confronted her again, forcing her to make the same decision she made in November.
As she did then, Naema chose her religion instead of learning French on the Quebec government’s terms.
“It is a copy and paste of what happened last week,” said Samer Majzoub, who heads the Canadian Muslim Forum, a non-profit organization that has been providing support for Naema.
“Why is the government doing this? I wonder if they have other things to do in life other than following this woman.”
Quebec Immigration Minister Yolande James appeared to move quickly in addressing the latest contribution to the province’s ongoing debate over the accommodation of religious and ethnic minorities.
News of Naema’s new enrolment first appeared in Tuesday’s edition of Montreal La Presse newspaper. By 10 a.m., officials from the Quebec government were meeting with her and representatives of the centre.
James’ office said it received word on Friday from teachers at the community centre that Naema was wearing her niqab in class.
“As we did last time, we told her that we have pedagogical objectives to meet in our French immersion courses, that they have to be taken with her face exposed,” said Luc Fortin, a spokesman for James.
“She refused to take off her niqab and she left the course.”
In Quebec City on Tuesday, James said “if she wants to attend the classes we need to be able to see her face.” Naema declined to speak to The Canadian Press, saying through an intermediary that she had been upset by media coverage of her initial expulsion.
Several commentators as well as certain Muslim groups expressed support for the Quebec’s government’s position last week. They argued Naema had been unreasonable in her demands, which reportedly included giving oral presentations with her back facing the co-ed class.
“She’s devastated,” Majzoub said. “This woman was insisting on being part of Quebec society, on integrating.”
The accommodation issue is politically contentious for the provincial Liberal government. Facing repeated criticism from the Opposition Parti Quebecois for failing to protect Quebec values, the Liberals say they intend to take “concrete measures” in the coming weeks to deal with the problem.
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