WSO Calls for Principled Discussion on Religious Accommodation

Ottawa – March 17, 2010: The World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) calls for a fair and principled discussion on the issue of religious accommodation. Recent events in Quebec, specifically the case of Naema Ahmed, a niqab-wearing woman who was asked to leave her French Class in Montreal have once again raised the issue of the accommodation of religious attire and specifically the niqab. It is essential that issues involving religious accommodation be considered in light of the Canadian Charter and human rights law, and not based on personal biases and xenophobia.

Canadians are proud of the freedoms that are guaranteed to them in Canada. One of those freedoms protected in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is freedom of religion. Canadian law is clear that individual religious practices, as long as they are not harmful to others, must be accommodated to the point of undue hardship. Simply feeling uncomfortable about or not agreeing with a religious practice is not reason enough to restrict it. The wearing of the niqab should be treated no differently than any other religious observance. Where accommodation is requested, unless an undue hardship can be established, the niqab must be accommodated. Comments like those by Christine St-Pierre, the Quebec minister responsible for the status of women, calling the niqab and burka “ambulatory prisons” that violate a woman's rights are not productive contributions to the discussion that needs to take place.

WSO’s senior policy advisor, Gian Singh Sandhu said, “While the Sikh faith does not believe in or practice veiling, the issue here is freedom of religion. As Canadians, we have the right to freely practice our religion. The niqab, as with all religious practices, cannot be restricted simply because it makes some people feel uncomfortable.”

WSO Legal Counsel, Balpreet Singh said, “Canadian human rights law is very clear on the issue; religious practices must be accommodated unless they meet the very high standard of undue hardship. The accommodation of the niqab must be considered in light of Canadian human rights law and not based on intolerance and prejudice.”

The World Sikh Organization (WSO) is a non-profit international organization with a mandate to promote and protect the interests of the Sikh Diaspora, as well as to promote and advocate for the protection of human rights for all individuals, irrespective of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, and social and economic status.

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