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Bill 21 hearings: Former senator links veil to excision and forced marriage

 “Quebec society is an open society, a society which is welcoming to everybody,” insists Simon Jolin-Barrette, Quebec minister of immigration, diversity and inclusiveness.
“Quebec society is an open society, a society which is welcoming to everybody,” insists Simon Jolin-Barrette, Quebec minister of immigration, diversity and inclusiveness.

QUEBEC — Hearings into Bill 21 careened into troubled waters Thursday when a former Liberal senator equated the Muslim veil with excision, torture and forced marriage.

Testifying before the committee examining the bill on behalf of a group of lawyers in favour of secularism and state neutrality, Céline Hervieux-Payette quoted from a book written by controversial Somali-born author and feminist activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Noting Hirsi Ali has received death threats and now requires protection 24 hour a day because of her views, Hervieux-Payette said the author’s ideas — which she shares — need to be understood by all as they debate Bill 21.

“She (the author) says the veil is detail,” Hervieux-Payette said. “What goes with it is excision, forced marriage at 14 or 15 years.

“After the incident with the Shafia family , I think we should understand that we are hung up on a detail when what is behind it is much more serious.”

Hervieux-Payette then praised the government for presenting the bill, which would ban certain authority figures in the public sector from wearing religious symbols such as the hijab.

“Bravo to the government for Bill 21,” Hervieux-Payette said.

The remarks sparked anger from the Liberal representative on the committee, Héléne David, who asked Hervieux-Payette repeatedly to clarify if she thinks such behaviour could happen in Quebec.

At the same time, the chairman of the committee, André Bachand, warned Hervieux-Payette twice to be careful of the language and references she was making, which were a long way from the content of the bill.

But outside the committee room, Hervieux-Payette refused to back down. Instead, she went further.

“The veil is a symbol of a religion, but the symbol is accompanied by other measures,” Hervieux-Payette told reporters. “Religious beliefs do not end with their veil. It’s everything behind it. It’s not the same thing as your grandmother putting on her hat to go to church.”

Asked if she believes excision, mutilation and forced marriages are possible in Quebec, Hervieux-Payette responded “absolutely.”

“The Shafia case (which involved honour killings) is an example,” she said. “That happened here.”

The remarks forced the minister responsible for the bill, Simon Jolin-Barrette, to call a news conference later to distance himself from the remarks.

“I in no way share these remarks and I denounce them,” Jolin-Barrette told reporters.

Asked if he felt the remarks were Islamophobic, Jolin-Barrette was cautious.

“They were sentences which were not appropriate,” Jolin-Barrette said.

“What made me react was her making it look like such a link is automatic,” David told reporters later. “She did not retract herself.

“I said, ‘Oh my God, does she know what she’s talking about? Really? Does she realize?

“My big fear is we stigmatize all women who wear a veil. Ostracizing and stigmatizing in our society is extremely dangerous, and I don’t want Bill 21 to lead to that.”

pauthier@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/philipauthier

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