Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Barbara Kay: A niqab is not a fashion statement

Barbara Kay: A niqab is not a fashion statement

My opinion? Reasonable accommodation is a two way street.

This is something that many people forget. That is a line that too many cross in the name of reasonable accommodation and multi-culturalism. Why is that line crossed, you might ask? Because of the fear of being labeled if you DON'T cross that line.

When our forebearers began to build this country, they were predominantly British and French, and they welcomed all races (and were bigoted towards some). Respect had to be earned, and accommodation and acceptance had to be gradually achieved over time. When the next flood of immigrants from Europe and Asia came in, they too were gradually accepted and respected as they came with the expectation of inclusion through integration, not division. It is only in the last 30 to 40 years, when rights became an industry, that immigrants came to this country without the expectation that they would have to integrate into the larger society as a whole. It is because of this lack of expectation that we are now finding ourselves having to bend over backwards for someone else, merely at their say so.

So back to Barbara's original article. The Niqab is a cultural practice, not a religious one. That that one religion has generally adopted it for use (although it is not required within the tenets of said religion) does not necessarily mean that it is a religious practice.

Paragraph 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives all peoples protection under the law regardless of your race, creed, colour or gender. It is generally assumed that the "majority" must accommodate a minority if they have a request. The problem is that sometimes the request isn't all that equal.

Let's look at the case again. She decides to take a class to learn to speak French. She wears a Niqab. Her first request was reasonable - the teacher wanted to see her face when she was pronouncing words so that she could be properly taught, and the student agreed to lift her veil as long as no males saw her face. This is reasonable, except that it didn't work for her after all. The next request involved moving herself and the teacher to the back of the class in order to perform the pronunciation. This would be a little harder to accommodate, but the teacher did so in order to be agreeable, and because this too was a fairly easy (if not annoying) step to take to accommodate - it took (I assume) seconds to complete and no real additional time would be taken from the rest. This too became unreasonable imposition on the students and as such, she asked for accommodation to move all males to one side of the room while she practiced pronunciation with her teach on the other side of the room. At this point, the teacher called this little bit of "accommodation" what it was - unreasonable. To force several people to move from one side of the room to another just to absolutely guarantee without question that there were no males able to see her face takes more time and effort than just a simple manoeuvre by student and teacher. It takes time away from the other students, and depending on the size of the class, forces the classroom to be unproductive for a period of time - time that could be spent on additional teaching for the entire class. Time that is wasted because 1 person thinks that they need absolute guarantees that no other males can see her face. Time that does not benefit, indeed hinders the progress of the class as a whole.

As a result, it should go without saying that the school may not want to continue their relationship with the student in this particular class. It can't do it's best to educate the student, not because of it's failings, but because of the student's demands. In a case like that, there should be no doubt that the student could be judged to be hindering their own progress, and as such, should seek education in a school where her needs can (and will) be accommodated. It's only fair.

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