Quebec’s education minister is facing criticism for tweeting a photo of himself with Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai after his government banned public employees from wearing headscarves like hers.
Education Minister Jean-François Roberge then further enraged critics by tweeting that, if the 21-year-old educational activist were to teach in Quebec, she would not be able to use the religious head covering she normally wears.
Roberge’s comment comes less than a month after Quebec passed Bill 21 — a controversial piece of legislation introduced by Coalition Avenir Québec, the province’s new anti-immigrant, center right, government. The bill bans public servants such as teachers, police officers and judges from wearing religious symbols, including hijabs, kippas, turbans and crosses.
Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize Laureate and an advocate for girls’ right to education, gained international attention in 2012 after Taliban gunmen shot her in the head for going to school. She met Roberge in France to discuss “access to education and international development,” according to the politician, who is in Paris for a series of education meetings before the G-7 summit next month.
After Roberge shared the photo of himself posing with Yousafzai on Friday, Montreal-based journalist Salim Nadim Valji asked the minister how he would respond if Yousafzai wanted to become a teacher in Quebec.
Roberge responded that having Yousafzai teach in the province would be an “immense honor,” but “that in Quebec, as is the case in France (where we are now) and in other open and tolerant countries, teachers cannot wear religious symbols in performing their duties.”
Roberge did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment, and Yousafzai was unavailable to comment, according to her spokespeople.
“It’s frankly hysterically and tragically absurd,” Mustafa Farooq, executive director at the National Council of Canadian Muslims, told HuffPost of Roberge’s tweet. “It just stands to show the nature of what happens when you start introducing legislation that strips away from the civil liberties of people.”
“It leads to absurd, unconstitutional consequences that have devastating effects on the way that people can live and how they can feel as citizens,” Farooq added.
Alongside the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, NCCM is set to challenge the legislation in court on Tuesday with Ichrak Nour El Hak, a hijab-wearing Muslim student at the University of Montreal studying to be a teacher. Hak said she fears the law will stop her from teaching in public schools.
For decades, Quebec has long struggled with Islamophobia in the name of secularism. In 2017, a gunman killed six worshippers and injured 19 others at a mosque in Quebec City in what is now Canada’s worst mass murder in a house of worship. Nonetheless, the current premier of Quebec insisted early this year that the province didn’t have a problem with Islamophobia.
Outside of Quebec, members of far-right hate groups entered a mosque uninvited and harassed worshippers on their way to Friday prayers in Edmonton, Alberta, earlier this year, stoking fears in the Muslim community. Reported hate crimes against Muslims in Canada nearly tripled between 2016 and 2017 alone, with many civil rights organizations noting that the number of crimes is likely higher.
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