Muslim woman expelled from school in veil dispute

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TORONTO (RNS/ENI) A Muslim woman has filed a human rights complaint after she was expelled from a Canadian college for refusing to remove her face veil.

The Egyptian-born woman, who is a permanent resident of Canada, was enrolled in a government-sponsored French language class for new immigrants in Montreal, Quebec.

The school, CEGEP St. Laurent, expelled her last November after she refused to remove her niqab, a veil that covers the face with only a slit for the eyes.

The school argued that the niqab interfered with the language teaching, since part of the class involves proper elocution and seeing how a person pronounces words in French.

“For the teacher, it was more difficult to hear her, and it was more difficult for all the people to understand what she had to say,” said the school’s director, Paul-Emile Bourque.

School officials said they had tried different ways of accommodating the woman between February and November 2009. She had previously asked that male students in the class not face her, so school officials allowed her to give an oral presentation at the far end of the classroom with her back turned to the other students.

The order to remove her niqab came after officials from Quebec’s immigration ministry visited the class. She was told she could take the class on the Internet.

The woman, identified only as Naema, told Canada’s CBC News that she wants to learn French so that she can work as a pharmacist. She has filed a complaint with Quebec’s Human Rights Commission, saying that her freedom of religion was violated.

Elsewhere in Canada, an Ontario court in 2009 ordered an alleged sexual assault victim to remove her niqab to testify in court against two men accused of assaulting her. The woman appealed the order and is awaiting a new hearing into the matter.

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