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.
National Executive Director
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:
Jim.Watson@ottawa.ca, Bob.Monette@ottawa.ca, Jody.Mitic@ottawa.ca, Jan.Harder@ottawa.ca, Marianne.Wilkinson@ottawa.ca, eli.ElChantiry@ottawa.ca, Shad.Qadri@ottawa.ca, Mark.Taylor@ottawa.ca, Rick.Chiarelli@ottawa.ca, firstname.lastname@example.org, Diane.Deans@ottawa.ca, Tim.Tierney@ottawa.ca, Mathieu.Fleury@ottawa.ca, Tobi.Nussbaum@ottawa.ca, Catherine.McKenney@ottawa.ca, Jeff.Leiper@ottawa.ca, Riley.Brockington@ottawa.ca, David.Chernushenko@ottawa.ca, Jean.Cloutier@ottawa.ca, Stephen.Blais@ottawa.ca, George.Darouze@ottawa.ca, Scott.Moffatt@ottawa.ca, Michael.Qaqish@ottawa.ca, Allan.Hubley@ottawa.ca
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