rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

George Orwell is alive: Niqabs banned in Quebec

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

In the worst form of Orwellian logic, Jean Charest's government in Quebec has tabled a bill in parliament banning any form of facial covering when dealing with the Quebec government, whether in the form of employment or access to services. This has been done in the name of "...respecting the principles of equality of men and women, and religious neutrality of the state." Aimed specifically at Muslim women who don the "niqab," this legislation is defended as applying to "everyone" and meant to "stress the values that unite us..."

Three things come to mind:

One is scale. According to the Muslim Council of Montreal, there are presumed to be about 25 women in all of Quebec who actually wear the "niqab." Out of approx. 118,000 people who accessed Montreal's health board services in 2008 to 2009, only 10 asked for accommodation and out of approx. 28,000 who accessed City services not one asked for special treatment. Hence, the Quebec parliament's response is disproportionate overkill to say the least.

Second, it is ironic and disingenuous to use secularism as a reason for this action. Secularism is a state philosophy that says that everyone is free to pursue their religious belief because the state is "neutral" unlike a theocracy where the state religion is the dominant religion and trumps others' right to their faith. A) Quebec culture and identity is firmly grounded in Catholicism -- including the huge crucifix donning the parliament building -- so citing "our values" as neutral is highly dubious if not outright false. B) Secularism in Quebec has become the new dogma and a religious orthodoxy in its own right and is now being used to deny religious minorities their rights. Furthermore, state bureaucracy will now police who gets access to jobs and services in the government. Ironically, I have lived in a monarchical state based on theocratic principles (Saudi Arabia) and believe me this is no different from religious police there constantly telling women what to wear and how to behave. They just don't care to rationalize it and insult our intelligence in the process.

Three, as a woman, a Canadian and a feminist I am insulted and offended. This is the most medieval form of paternalistic infantilizing of women -- telling them what is good for them and what is not and if they do not listen, chastise them and penalize them. Well there goes our long history of feminism, Charter of Rights and Freedom and our famed multiculturalism. For Quebec feminists to support this in the name of women's rights is an insult to women across Canada and the globe and just shows how compromised a strain of Western feminism has become to the new imperial project which is based firmly in aggressively subjugating, invading and waging war against those deemed inferior to our "cultural values." What is it that Bush said: "they hate us for our freedom"? No -- you are quite capable of becoming hateful all by yourself and as for freedom -- it is after all merely a word -- as is amply exemplified in the double talk of neo-liberal gobbledegook parading as Western Liberalism.

Gone are the days when Quebec was cited as the beacon of progressive thought and action in Canada. The torch has gone off long time ago! I think it is Ontario that can now take up that challenge. We have a critical mass of diversity of people, cultures, ideas and political ideologies -- however, we have to make sure that the right wing ideological shift that is increasingly being led by the federal government in Canada does not infest our provincial politics and that we remain vigilant about our right to be "different"!

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.