Quebec Junior Education Minister and newly nominated as responsible for the Status of Women portfolio Isabelle Charest responds to reporters at a news conference on Feb. 5, 2019 at the legislature in Quebec City. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot)

Quebec Junior Education Minister and newly nominated as responsible for the Status of Women portfolio Isabelle Charest responds to reporters at a news conference on Feb. 5, 2019 at the legislature in Quebec City. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot)

Quebec status of women minister says Muslim women shouldn’t wear a hijab

Isabelle Charest said the Muslim head scarf is a symbol of oppression

Quebec’s new minister responsible for the status of women faced criticism Wednesday after saying she considers the hijab to be a symbol of oppression.

Speaking to reporters after being named to the portfolio Tuesday, Isabelle Charest said the Muslim head scarf does not correspond to her values and she believes it is “not something women should be wearing.”

“It does have, at some point, some significance about oppression of women, and the fact that they have to cover themselves, and for me it’s not in my values,” Charest said.

When asked to clarify, she said she objects to the hijab because it represents a requirement for women to cover themselves.

READ MORE: Abbotsford Muslim women speak to students about their faith, hijabs and dealing with harassment

“It’s the fact that you have to wear something, so it does command an action for the women, and I think women should be free to wear whatever they want,” she said.

Charest, a former Olympic short track speed skater, was elected for the first time on Oct. 1. She is also junior education minister.

Her statements came as the Coalition Avenir Quebec government prepares to introduce legislation prohibiting public servants in positions of authority — including teachers — from wearing visible religious symbols including the hijab, kippa and turban.

Amira Elghawaby, an Ottawa-based human rights advocate, called Charest’s comments disappointing and potentially harmful to Muslim women.

“Whenever we see political officials begin to talk in a way that gives credence to an idea that Muslim women should be treated as second-class citizens, that we don’t have the capacity to think for ourselves, can’t make our own decisions and need the state to tell us what’s suitable dress, that’s very dangerous,” said Elghawaby, who wears a hijab.

“It sends the signal to the broader population that we don’t deserve respect, don’t deserve to be treated with dignity and that we don’t deserve the same freedoms everyone else enjoys.”

READ MORE: Changing stereotypes, one hijab at a time

Members of the opposition also jumped on her comments, which were described as ”clumsy” and “divisive.” Pierre Arcand, interim leader of the Opposition Liberals, said that tolerance and calm are needed in the debate prompted by the Coalition government.

“These are subjects that call for deep reflection,” he said Wednesday morning. “We’re for freedom of choice.”

In Ottawa, federal International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau reminded Charest that women have the right to choose “what they do with their body and how to dress.”

READ MORE: Walk a mile in her hijab event encourages religious tolerance

Charest modified her comments somewhat Wednesday, saying that while she personally sees the hijab as oppressive, she recognizes that for some women it is a personal choice.

“For women who have to wear it, who are dictated by religion that they have to wear a head scarf, for me, that’s a sign of oppression,” she said. “Now, I know there are some women who choose to wear it. That’s their choice and I fully respect it.”

But Elghawaby said that Charest’s attempts to nuance her comments came too late, and the damage was already done.

“What we really need is for elected officials to think very carefully before they start speaking about people’s experiences and freedoms and understand that they are elected to serve all of us in a way that respects our dignity,” she said.

Gabrielle Bouchard, the president of Quebec’s most prominent women’s group, said she was surprised to hear Charest take such a strong position on the issue so early in her mandate. “It shows she maybe didn’t have enough — or any — contact with Muslim women before making that statement,” she said.

Bouchard said her organization, the Federation des femmes du Quebec, has yet to determine its official position on the wearing of religious symbols. She said the issue is complex and members have varying opinions.

— With files from Morgan Lowrie

Caroline Plante and Patrice Bergeron, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

(Contributed)
Collision slows rush hour traffic in Kelowna

Expect delays at K.L.O. Road and Richter Street on your commute Tuesday evening

A conceptual render of the proposed building at 955 Manhattan Drive. (Contributed)
Height not wanted on Kelowna’s Manhattan Drive

City staff said proposed five-storey building poses challenges

A for sale sign is shown in by new homes in Beckwith, Ont., just outside Ottawa, on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Thompson-Okanagan population grew despite COVID-19: report

The Chartered Professional Accountants of BC said there are 8,462 new residents in the region

Kelowna General Hospital. (File photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna General Hospital declared over

Three people tested positive for the virus — two patients and one staff — one of whom died

A crash at the intersection of Harvey Avenue and Leckie Road on June 15. (Amandalina Letterio/Capital News)
Traffic stalled by Harvey Avenue crash in Kelowna

One lane is open as crews clean up after crash at Harvey Avenue and Leckie Road

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

Vernon-Monashee NDP MLA Harwinder Sandhu supported a motion in the B.C. legislature for Canada to create a national Indigenous History month Monday, June 13, 2021. (Contributed)
Canada needs a national Indigenous History Month, Vernon MLA agrees

Harwinder Sandhu supports motion to recognize June as month to advance reconciliation efforts with First Nations

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Facebook)
New trial date set for Penticton beach attacker’s triple assault charges

May trial was delayed after Crown witnesses failed to show up

Orange ribbons are tied to the fence outside Vernon’s Gateway Homeless Shelter on 33rd Street. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
POLL: Low-key Canada Day in the works for Vernon

Councillor calling for Indigenous recognition for 2022

A conceptual design of Vernon’s new Active Living Centre, which will go to referendum Oct. 15, 2022. (Rendering)
Active living centre 2022 referendum planned in Vernon

City hoping to get Coldstream and Areas B and C back on board

Closure of the 2900 block of 30th Avenue will allow restaurants and other businesses to extend their patios onto the street. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Green light given to downtown Vernon road closure

Single block of 30th Avenue to close over summer months to boost business

Graduating Grade 12 student Savannah Lamb has been awarded an approximate $40,000 scholarship from the Beedie Luminaries foundation. (Contributed)
Dedicated Salmon Arm student earns scholarship to pursue post-secondary education

Savannah Lamb is graduating from Salmon Arm Secondary with a $40,000 scholarship

Most Read