Toronto: Canadians have unanimously supported the niqab ban announced by French-speaking Quebec province this week. After France, the Canadian province is the first in North America to ban the niqab, a top-to-toe dress worn by Muslim women.
The ban, triggered by an Egyptian immigrant woman's refusal to remove her niqab in her French classes in Montreal, will disallow access to government services, schools and colleges and health care to those who don't remove the face veil.
A national survey at the weekend showed widespread support for the ban in this highly polarized nation between liberals and conservatives. According to the survey - conducted by Angus Reid for the Montreal Gazette newspaper - 95 percent people in Quebec province supported the law to ban the Muslim dress which they say contradicts the liberal, secular values of their society.
Across Canada - which has 10 provinces and three national territories - four out of five people supported the ban.
Expressing his surprise at the near-unanimity among Canadians on the issue, Mario Canseco, vice-president of the
pollster, was quoted by the Montreal Gazette as saying, "It's very rare to get 80 per cent of Canadians to agree on something. With numbers like this, there is not going to be much of a controversy over the legislation in Quebec or anywhere else in the country."
But Salam Elmenyawi of the Muslim Council of Montreal attributed the poll results to the emotional climate surrounding the niqab issue.
"They are giving it based on their emotional response to a woman covering her face, which is understandable. It is associated with all the negative stereotypes that have been on the airwaves," the Muslim leader was quoted as saying.
Canada is home to about one million Muslims who are mostly concentrated in major cities such as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
As Canada's demographic profile changes with immigration and higher birth rates among immigrants, the Muslim population is estimated to triple in two decades, according to a recent report by Statistics Canada.
Most Canadian Muslim women shun the niqab and hijab which are usually worn by those from most orthodox Muslim countries from the Middle East or Somalia and Ethiopia.
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