October 4, 2004

A local Muslim leader questions the Quebec Human Rights Commission's handling of complaints by Montréal Muslims, calling the Commission's delay contrary to its own rules of fairness and a sign it is being under political influence not to act faster.

Salam Elmenyawi, chairman of the Muslim Council of Montreal, criticized the Commission for the unreasonable delay in the handling of a complaint filed by a Muslim student of the Charlemagne private school after she was expelled for wearing the hijab. According to Mr. Elmenyawi, there is no reason for the Commission to take more than a year when it already has a position on the issue of hijab in high schools, adopted back in the 1990s, and when the Commission itself promised to process the complaint and render a decision “within weeks” of the filing of the complaint.

He questions whether the Commission's delay is a result of political pressure from outside, or a malaise within the Commission in addressing anti-Muslim discrimination and racism.

Mr. Elmenyawi also suspects that the Commission is flip-flopping on the issue as a result of the situation in France where all religious symbols are banned in public schools. He also fears since among Commission members and staff, there are insufficient members of visible and religious minorities who can help the Commission become more sensitive to minorities' concern. He notes that in recent years, the Commission has remained quite silent on issues of racial and religious discrimination and hate crimes, despite its mandate to do public education on human rights.

If that is the case, then the Commission is not fulfilling its duties and powers under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Worse, Mr. Elmenyawi suspects that the Commission is playing politics with an issue that affects more than 125,000 Muslim Quebecers, as well as all other victims of racial and religious discrimination who come to the Commission for help.

“The Commission must respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and apply the law properly, objectively and fairly,” said Mr. Elmenyawi.

“The human rights commission cannot practice double standard by treating complaints of racial and religious discrimination according to political opinions or personal bias, while it treats other complaints according to the law,” he added.

The Charlemagne hijab case is not the only beef Mr. Elmenyawi has with the Commission. Complaints filed by Muslim engineering students against the École de Technologie Supérieure (ETS) for denying them prayer space and association accreditation have taken almost 18 months to investigate. Some key students who are victims are still waiting to be contacted by the Commission's investigator for their account of the rights violations.

This delay violates the Commission's own pledge to process complaints within a maximum of 15 months, as it has pledged in its Declaration of Services to Citizens. For this reason, Mr. Elmenyawi will file a complaint to Treasury Board President Monique Forget and Justice Minister Jacques Dupuis, who oversee the Commission.

“The Commission's delay and obvious inability to address anti-Muslim discrimination makes us lose faith in it. The Muslim Council of Montreal is called on the National Assembly to examine why the Commission takes this long, for justice delayed is justice denied”, Mr. Elmenyawi concluded.