Remove niqab to get medicare card, Quebec commission rules

Remove niqab to get medicare card, Quebec commission rules

By Marian Scott and Kevin Dougherty, Montreal Gazette
March 16, 2010Comments (93)

Photos ( 1 )

The niqab – an opaque veil with a slit for the eyes – has become a flashpoint in the debate over how far Quebec should go to accommodate minorities.
Photograph by: CRIS BOURONCLE, AFP, GETTY IMAGES, AFP; Getty Images

MONTREAL — A niqab-clad woman must uncover her face to confirm her identity when applying for a Quebec medicare card, the province’s human rights commission says.

And she does not have the right to insist on being served by a woman when doing so, the commission said in an opinion issued Tuesday.

The opinion comes in response to a request by Quebec’s health-insurance board to clarify the issue.

Among 146,000 applications for health-care photo ID in 2008-09, there were just 10 from clients who asked for special accommodations because they wore a face-covering niqab or burka.

Asking a woman to uncover her face long enough for a clerk to check her identity does not infringe on freedom-of-religion guarantees in the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms because the gesture should only take a few seconds, the commission said.

“It is not a significant infringement of freedom of religion,” said Marc-Andre Dowd, vice-president of the commission.

In response to two other questions put to it by the Regie de l’Assurance-maladie (RAMQ), the commission also stipulated that members of the public do not have the right to complain about employees who wear a hijab (Muslim head scarf) or speak with a foreign accent.

Until now, Regie guidelines have allowed women who wear a niqab or burka to demand to be served by a female employee.

In Quebec City, Health Minister Yves Bolduc welcomed the opinion.

“We agree with the human rights commission decision and the RAMQ is going to follow the recommendation,” he said.

Immigration Minister Yolande James said she would reserve comment until after she has read the opinion.

“But I understand that the opinion goes in the sense of respecting the principle that our government has always defended, that is to say, the equality of men and women,” James said.

The minister is developing guidelines on the wearing of religious symbols such as the niqab face veil and the hijab head scarf by public employees, but she would not say when the guidelines would be made public.

James defended her decision last week to ban a woman who would not remove her niqab face veil during French lessons.

“We will be moving forward and we are taking the appropriate time to look at different acts that we will consider,” she said.
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