January 31, 2005

Mr. Salam Elmenyawi, Chairman of the Muslim Council of Montreal, calls on the Quebec National Assembly to hold a public inquiry into the way the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission has handled complaints involving the banning of the hijab in private schools.

In a January 27, 2005 television broadcast, Radio-Canada revealed that contrary to its contention last December, the provincial human rights commission did adopt a comprehensive discussion paper last September. According to this document, which was deliberately kept confidential by the Commissioners, it is clear that private secular schools do not have the legal right under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to ban the hijab. Despite this position, the Commission allowed for a private settlement between the College Charlemagne and a Muslim student who was expelled in 2002 for wearing a hijab, and refused to inform the public, saying that it prefers dealing with specific cases as they come along and continuing ‘reflections’ on this issue.

According to Mr. Elmenyawi, this is a total lack of transparency and a betrayal of the trust of Muslim Quebecers who rely on the Commission to protect and defend their rights and religious freedoms. In addition, he qualifies the Commission’s handling of the issue as being completely irresponsible and insensitive to Muslim Quebecers who encounter religious discrimination in schools and other institutions and who have to endure the humiliation and the burden of fighting anti-Muslim discrimination, often at great financial costs.

Mr. Elmenyawi also blames the Commission for not assuming its mandate properly, pointing at the fact that the Charter gives the Commission not only the duty to investigate complaints, but also to conduct research and public education to promote human rights and freedoms. For the Commission to hide a position paper, which can, if published, prevent and dissuade discrimination in different sectors of society, is tantamount to sitting back to reflect or wait for complaints to come in while the Commission knows that a bar publicly denies entrance to Blacks or that sexual harassment runs rampant inside a company.

“This is not only an unacceptable abdication of its statutory responsibility, but also an immoral laissez-faire attitude that forces victims of racism and anti-Muslim discrimination suffer emotionally, psychologically, socially and financially”, he said.

Mr. Elmenyawi believes that the Commission has completely lost the confidence of not only Muslim Quebecers, but all Quebecers who may need to turn to the Commission for help when they are victims of discrimination. For this reason, he is calling on the National Assembly to hold immediately a public inquiry, through the Standing Committee on Institutions, on the Commission’s handling of hijab and other forms of anti-Muslim discrimination.

He is also calling on Commission Chair Pierre Marois, a former PQ cabinet minister, to personally meet members of the Muslim and other minority community leaders to account for the deliberate withholding of the document and for his silence on Islamophobia and other forms of racial and religious intolerance in recent months.

“Mr. Marois has to personally explain why under his presidency, the commission has silently allowed discrimination to go on and compromise our community’s dignity, security and freedom”, Mr. Elmenyawi concluded.