The federal Conservative caucus chairman denounced the expulsion of Muslim girls from sports events in Quebec because of their head scarves, calling it a sad overreaction at a time Canadians should be celebrating the anniversary of the Charter of Rights and the minority freedoms it protects.
Tory MP Rahim Jaffer broke his government’s determined silence on the ouster of girls from soccer and taekwondo tournaments in Quebec in recent weeks.
Cabinet members and MPs have retreated down staircases, referred the matter to colleagues, said they were too busy, or claimed they were unaware of the story when asked for an opinion.
After his colleagues repeatedly refused to take a position following three days of requests for comment, Jaffer agreed to speak on the issue.
He called the case of five girls at last weekend’s taekwondo event especially sad because it coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, saying, “There seems to be a little bit of oversensitivity against the hijab.”
“We’ve seen this more and more over the last little while. And it's unfortunate that that sort of attitude is developing - especially when this is the week that we're celebrating the anniversary of the charter.
“You have the ability to practice your religion freely and not be discriminated against on the basis of any characteristics here in Canada.
“Yet somehow that particular part of the charter seems to be applied very loosely in some cases.”
Jaffer, though Muslim himself, is a member of the Ismaili sect which does not insist upon the wearing of hijab.
Five Muslim girls aged 8 to 13 were told by event organizers last weekend that under world taekwondo rules, only protective gear is allowed on the head and they could not compete with their headscarves.
But officials at the World Tae Kwon Do Federation have since said the rule is rarely enforced. The girls themselves had competed in the Montreal-area tournament for several years without a problem before last weekend.
“Kicking kids out of sports events for their religious wear is not the way to help communities live together in harmony,” Jaffer said.
“Unfortunately, it's especially young people who were caught in the middle of the politics of the whole thing,” Jaffer said.
“We should be encouraging sport, encouraging this diversity, encouraging youth to participate. [But] some people are making this issue the reason why not to allow people to take part in different aspects of society.”
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said he supports the girls’ right to wear a hijab unless someone can prove that it poses a risk or gives them an unfair sporting advantage. “If there’s no security risk and the competition is not affected, I have no problem with it,” Dion said.
“Let hijab-wearing girls play sports, Conservative caucus chair says” The Canadian Press April 20, 2007
“Tory silence broken; Let hijab-wearing girls play sports, says Conservative caucus chairman” The Sault Star April 20, 2007