September 22, 2003

Irene Waseem was barred from attending her classes on September 2nd, 2003, after arriving to school on the first day of classes wearing hijab, a headscarf worn by Muslim women for religious reasons. Waseem, a Muslim student in her graduating year at École Charlemagne, was sent home by school officials and told that she would not be allowed back unless she removes her hijab.

According to École Charlemagne, a private French high school in the West Island, the hijab is in violation of school dress code. However, in February 1995, the Québec Human Rights Commission decided that Québec schools were not permitted to prohibit students from wearing hijab, following the expulsion of two veiled Montréal students.

"It is shocking that we still have school directors who behave this way, who have no respect for our constitution and the Québec Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Their action violates the right of all students to freely practice their religion without harassment," stated Salam Elmenyawi, President of the Muslim Council of Montréal (MCM). "School directors must act in a socially responsible and acceptable manner, and do everything possible to foster respect to one another in our society."

These statements were echoed by Amir Al-Shourbaji, President of the United Muslim Students Association (UMSA). "Such incidents of discrimination are intolerable and have a psychological impact on students. Irene is perfectly within her rights and school directors cannot prohibit her from following her religion. We are committed to take this till the end to ensure that this issue is resolved correctly, in accordance to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms," Al-Shourbaji said.

Waseem has filed an official complaint, calling for an investigation on the matter, with the Québec Human Rights Commission. As stipulated by the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, "every person has a right to full and equal recognition and exercise of his human rights and freedoms, without distinction, exclusion or preference based on race, colour, ...religion." The Charter also specifies "every person has a right, to the extent and according to the standards provided for by law, to free public education".

For further information please contact:
Salam Elmenyawi, MCM President
Phone: (514) 748-8427