Stop faith-based bigotry

City of Ottawa’s Hijab Day

To the Mayor and Council of the City of Ottawa

It has come to the attention of Centre For Inquiry Canada (CFIC) that the City of Ottawa is hosting a celebration of the hijab on February 25, 2016.  As an organization which represents views of the non-religious and secularists members of the community, CFIC – including our Ottawa Branch members – opposes this initiative.

Centre For Inquiry Canada (CFIC) supports and promotes the human right to freedom of religion which includes freedom from religion.  CFIC does not denigrate those who wish to express their personal freedom by wearing of articles of clothing; we do however, assert that there are others who are forced, coerced, pressured and otherwise manipulated into submission to religious oppression – that their freedom of thought, expression of their individual agency is daily violated. For these people, the hijab is not a symbol of choice, but a symbol of victimization.

CFIC is an advocate of secular human rights as well as secularism.  From  the perspective of a modern secular democracy,

  • government should not endorse or favour the religious rites or practices of any religion
  • government should never celebrate practices which are clearly connected to human rights violations
  • government should not favour one religious practice or perspective over other practices and perspectives

In celebrating the hijab, the City of Ottawa is demonstrating a favouring of one religious perspective over other perspectives.  The  perspective of those atheists, humanists, ex-Muslims, Christians, Muslims and others who object to the hijab have effectively been rejected by the City of Ottawa.  Just as the City of Ottawa should not host “anti-hijab” demonstrations, neither should it host “pro-hijab” activities.  By sponsoring Hijab Day, the City of Ottawa has  advanced religious privilege over human rights.  That is not acceptable.

From the perspective of human rights, the hijab is recognized as a symbol and practical tool for the oppression and victimization of women.  Consider the following comments from Muslims, Ex-Muslims, atheists, secularists and humanists that have been submitted to CFIC in response to this activity (names withheld to respect confidentiality):

  • And just as the hijab, Female Genital Mutilation is defined by policing female sexuality. As an immigrant, I can’t even begin to understand ”why” Canada is endorsing such blatant sexism and misogyny in the name of “tolerance”. It’s a step back in the fight for universal human rights. 
  • Islamism has destroyed numerous indigenous cultures and religions in the East – and now I see Canada endorsing it over some delusional concept of  “tolerance” and “multiculturalism”.
  • I find it to be intentionally deceptive. It romanticizes the fetishization of female sexual modesty and ultimately shames female sexuality.
  • It is a symbol of gender-apartheid to millions of women and girls – especially those who are prosecuted for “moral crimes” after rejecting the hijab, as the women and girls in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, et al. Not only legal prosecution, but also social persecution — the ostracisation of women/girls who do not conform to the standard of female modesty in the Islamic world — many of whom have had acid doused on their faces, raped and even honour killed.
  • I find it absolutely nauseating to see Canada embrace it under the banner of “multiculturalism” and “religious freedom” — when the purpose of the hijab, along with the niqab and burqa, is to isolate women and girls from society while tasking them with the responsibility to ”prevent” rape and other forms of sexual abuse. It indoctrinates females to a level where being without a hijab is equal to being nude – and thus the mental abuse induced by it passes onto several generation as they’ll indoctrinate their daughters too and expect them to conform as they did.
  • It is a sexist statement endorsing rape-culture. That is the ”hijab”. It is defined by the subjugation of the female sex to mainstream patriarchy that often dehumanises them as sexual property of the heterosexual male. How do we establish social and political equality amongst the sexes when such forms of sexism is celebrated? It is incompatible with feminism and liberalism
  • The hijab is not just a piece of cloth Muslim women wear.  It is a religious symbol which mandates that women’s only purpose is to give birth to children and raise them, taking care of their husband and staying home.  They are not allowed to have education, to work – or to even drive a car.  Those who are celebrating Hijab Day do not understand      what the hijab means and are only celebrating for superficial reasons.  My question to them:  Can an Afghan or Saudi Woman  celebrate “non hijab day” if they wish to?  If you are promoting religious rights, think about those women who don’t have a right to celebrate their own life because of religion.
  • Shari’a  law is all about submission of women and treating them worse than family animals.  Women who are running away from family terrorism are shocked that the City of Ottawa is sponsoring Hijab Day.  To date, there have been 24 honour killings in Canada and there are hundreds of young women and girls who live under the threat of physical and mental abuse, right here in our backyard.  First, Muslim prayers in schools received approval, now hijab.  It is time for Canadians to take a stand for Canada and Human Rights.

Mr. Mayor and City Councillors of the City of Ottawa, government respect for religious freedom should not extend to active endorsement of religious practices.  The very “sensitivity” of the current public discussion of the hijab should have been an indicator of the essential requirement for impartiality by public officials.

In 2015, I was invited to serve on the External Advisory Committee to Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom.  It is my observation that Canadians, across all perspectives of faith and religion, hold  human rights and diversity in deep regard.  This deep regard must not be distorted in such a manner that the protection of the expression of religious freedom here in Canada enables and supports faith-based oppressions in Canada and around the world.

Women who choose to wear a hijab should not be subject to hectoring or abuse – but they do not require sheltering from the realities of the abuses, coercions, oppressions and manipulations that other women are forced to endure; nor do they require government approval for a celebration of valuing their own choices over the alleviation of suffering and oppression of others.

Centre For Inquiry Canada urges the City of Ottawa to:

  • cease promotion of one religious practice or perspective over others by ceasing support of Hijab Day and other endorsements of religious privilege
  • cease  promotion of religious privilege over human rights in all future business of the City of Ottawa undertake to ensure that City of Ottawa business does not inadvertently
  • support human rights violations in Ottawa, Canada and around the world.

Should you wish further dialogue regarding contents of this letter, CFIC is available to meet and provide you with further education and information.

Eric Adriaans
National Executive Director
CFI Canada



According to an article in the Ottawa Citizen, city council has only received “three or four emails opposing the hijab event”.  In response to one of these emails, Mayor Jim Watson’s office states that this is “a volunteer initiative”, and simply booking an event does not “constitute endorsement by City Council”.   Indeed, many groups (including the Ottawa branch of CFI Canada) hold events in city-owned spaces, with no expectation of agreement, endorsement, or even acknowledgement of the subject matter.

While it is true that there was no official proclamation of the event by the City of Ottawa, the event was announced on the mayor’s official Twitter account.  In response, CAWI (City for All Women Initiative) sent a tweet in reply thanking Mayor Watson “for his support”, to which Watson replied in turn “my pleasure”.   CAWI  publicized the event as Ottawa Hijab Solidarity Day, and city officials have declined to issue a public statement to clarify the (incorrect) impression that the event was officially endorsed.

CFI Ottawa will be mailing a copy of the letter from CFI Canada (signed so far by 27) to Ottawa City Council.  We invite readers to use this letter to send to the mayor and city councilors of Ottawa, or to send their own letter, by post to:

110 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario, K1P 1J1

or by email to:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,




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8 thoughts on “City of Ottawa’s Hijab Day

  1. When Muslim men say publicly that their wives and daughters may wear the hijab or not, as they wish, with no adverse repercussions, then perhaps those who choose to wear it may be entitled to celebrate it publicly, without the need of endorsement by any government.

  2. Allow me to highlight this statement from CFIC Ottawa, I think it says a lot towards the issue. There are those who choose to cover their heads and there are those who chose not to.
    “CFIC does not denigrate those who wish to express their personal freedom by wearing of articles of clothing; we do however, assert that there are others who are forced, coerced, pressured and otherwise manipulated into submission to religious oppression – that their freedom of thought, expression of their individual agency is daily violated. For these people, the hijab is not a symbol of choice, but a symbol of victimization.”

    I would also argue that the Canadian Secular Judicial System supports those who chose not to wear a head covering. Bravo, CFIC Ottawa!

  3. Should women be forced not to wear the hijab? Of course not. Should women who wear it be subject to taunts and having it torn from them? Of course not. Having said that the hijab is not a neutral piece of clothing. It is a symbol of oppression of women all around the world. I first became aware of the hijab as a symbol of intolerance and as a human rights issue when I read about the murder of Aqsa Parvez. I have, since then, read widely on the issue from numerous human rights activists all around the world, including women within the Muslim faith itself. We are led to believe that speaking out on this issue is a sign of intolerance, of Islamophobia, of hatred, bigotry, racism. What if it is none of the above. What if it is people like myself who see no reason to celebrate the hijab while women are still being oppressed, imprisoned, murdered for not wearing it. Instead, my challenge to these women in Ottawa would be to hold another event showing solidarity with those women within Islam who are oppressed and persecuted because of this article of clothing. My challenge to these women would be to have a take off your hijab day to show solidarity with your oppressed sisters in Iran, in Saudi Arabia and numerous other countries in the world, including this country, Canada, the country of Aqsa Parvez.

  4. Pingback: The City of Ottawa has advanced religious privilege over human rights - Butterflies and Wheels

  5. Well we can certainly see that secularists and progressives are on the case, but where are the Ottawa area feminists? This is much more a feminist cause than one of secularism, is it not?

  6. Thank-you Eric Adriaans and CFI Canada for providing a rational perspective on this complex issue. I do believe many Canadians are well-intentioned but naive. A young mother from Egypt has told me stories of the frightening public harassment she endured there for going out in public with her head uncovered. I am personally very disappointed in our government, and embarrassed by “Hijab Day”.

  7. Why a Hijab Day is being observed? Did after 9/11 a new prophet of Islam is born or a new Islam is needed to be propagated? This is is well planned vicious agenda to bring forward an Islamic agenda to fool the west. After hundred years why Islam needed to be invigorated? Is is a fact that dogmatic Islam needs protection from the onslaught of the changing times? People should understand that following a faith is no harm but propagating ignorance and lies is dangerous.

  8. Why celebrate the fact that you ABOLUTELY NEED to wear a hijab, day in and day out, because you risk losing your freedom and even your life if you don’t? Such a “celebration” is the worst way possible to try and make non Muslims like myself show tolerance and acceptance. What if Catholics were to have a “Crucifixion Day” in an attempt to convince people of their “goodness”? To my mind, a hijab will remain a symbol of fear, of hate, and of all that is ugly in human beings as long as it is used as an excuse to subjugate another human being, and no amount of celebration, faith or religion can ever change that.

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