06 June 2009

Canada: Quebec firm on hijab ban for prison guards

Sondos Abdelatif had to quit a training program at Montreal's Bordeaux jail after she insisted on wearing her hijab.

Sondos Abdelatif had to quit a training program at Montreal's Bordeaux jail after she insisted on wearing her hijab.

A Quebec woman who was forced to choose between her hijab and her career is considering taking her case to the Human Rights Commission.

Sondos Abdelatif, 19, was given the ultimatum to withdraw from a training session at Montreal's Bordeaux Detention Centre or remove her headscarf.

Quebec's Public Safety Department is standing behind its decision to ban the hijab. The ministry, which is in charge of Corrections Services, said a headscarf could act as a strangulation device should hostile prisoners attack a guard while on patrol.

However, Abdelatif says if her headscarf was a problem, officials should have notified her sooner.

Abdelatif applied to become a corrections officer in November of last year. Her application included a complete portfolio with photos of her wearing a headscarf and there were no questions asked about her hijab at the time.

"I had my veil on and you could clearly see that I had my veil on," Abdelatif told CTV Montreal on Thursday.

Abdelatif completed her initial examination and was a week into her training before officials at the Bordeaux Detention Centre confronted her with the ultimatum.

"They just told me you either take it off, or you can't work here," Abdelatif said.

"It was kind of like they were telling me that I had nothing to offer, that I was good for nothing."

Female guards are required to wear their hair tied back and abstain from wearing ties, but there is no mention of hijabs in the prison's uniform policy.

According to Canadian and provincial correctional authorities, this is the first time that a woman who observes the Muslim custom has wanted to become a corrections officer in the province.

Abdelatif is upset she will not be given the chance to fulfill her career aspirations.

"I liked it a lot. I figured out that's what I want to do with my life," said Abdelatif.

She said she would like to have an open dialogue with the prison and the Public Safety Department before she takes her case to the Human Rights Commission.

Sarah Elgazzar, a spokesperson for the Canadian Council on American Muslim Relations, said the ministry should be willing to compromise.

"If there were security concerns they should have addressed the security concerns," Elgazzar told CTV Montreal.

"They should have said, 'Hey, look we're worried about you. We have your best interest in mind, is there a way that you can do this without endangering yourself?'"

Elgazzar reiterated there are specifically designed hijabs used by the Canadian armed forces that could be a compromise to this situation.

A spokesperson from the Public Safety Department said they are not considering alternatives to the ultimatum.

This recent incident has further fueled the debate about reasonable accommodation for minorities within Quebec.

An 11-year-old Ottawa girl was ejected from a soccer game in Quebec after she refused to remove her headscarf during the game in February.

The small town of Herouxville drew international attention when it adopted a declaration of "norms'' that tells immigrants how to fit in and forbids face coverings other than on Halloween.

In Montreal, men were banned from pre-natal classes at one Montreal community centre to accommodate Muslim, Sikh and Hindu women.

With files from the Canadian Press and a report by CTV Montreal's Tania Krywiak.


  1. I like your blog and put it on my Google Reader list. Cool to see another Canadian and another Quebecker on here! :)

  2. Thank you very much! :)

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