Inside Discrimination: How Québec’s Secularism Bill Disproportionately Affects Muslim Women


A note on this 4-part series “Inside Discrimination”:

This is the second post in a collaborative series where equality champions across the globe who are at the dawn of their careers describe the mechanics of inequality through their lived experience.

by Alishba Afaq

A Constant Fear

Imagine this--every time you get onto the subway you become paranoid. You make sure not to stand next to the line, in case someone feels inclined to push.

You distance yourself from others if they stare too long. These were some of the thoughts Muslim Canadian Sahresh Tabrez had before deciding to remove her hijab.


In 2017, Quebec passed a law banning religious face coverings such as the burqa and niqab while receiving government services. This ban requires citizens to unveil themselves even when using public transit, where they must remain unveiled for the entire ride.

“So...this constant fear in me, just because I am wearing the hijab. That’s just not healthy for anyone,” said Tabrez following her decision.


Bill 21, Quebec’s recent secularism bill, will also prohibit those in positions of authority, (including teachers) from wearing religious symbols such as the hijab.

As the legislation has been extended to municipalities, school boards, public health services, and even public transit, citizens fear that Muslim women who veil themselves can no longer use public services without the fear of humiliation.

Further IsOlation


Currently, 64% of the Quebec population agrees with the bill.  A 2016 survey in Canada shows that only 3% of Muslim women wear the niqab, bringing into question the real purpose of the new legislation.

As a result, advocacy groups have accused the provincial government of targeting minority groups in order to capitalize on xenophobic sentiment.

“It seems like a made-up solution to an invented problem,” said Ihsaan Gardee of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.


“We don’t have a big issue right now with hordes of Muslim women in niqab trying to work in the public service or accessing public services with difficulty,” he said.

The new legislation does nothing but further isolate a minority population that is already marginalized on a daily basis.

Is Canada To Blame?

“We can’t divorce this bill from the larger context in which it falls,” said Gardee.


“According to Statistics Canada, hate crimes targeting Canadian Muslims increased from 2012 to 2015 by 253%.

This legislation highlights how far we, as a country, have to come in the true acceptance of our own people.

In allusion to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s famous words regarding the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada, Guardee said:

“We are of that opinion that the state has no business in the wardrobe of the nation.”


Often times, Canada is referred to as a place where individuals can freely express themselves, yet similar legislation in the United States has not deprived women of their basic ideologies and beliefs.

The damage has been done and is irreversible. Those in power have done well in appealing to the majority—at the cost of degrading communities they are forced to coexist with on a daily basis. There has been a substantial amount of hatred towards Muslims for the past decade and following the horrific 2017 mosque shooting, my fears continue.

Alishba Afaq


Alishba is a 17-year old aspiring cardiologist who is shaping her life on the foundational concept of helping others. She imagines her life’s work will involve saving people, physically, and also by spreading awareness about issues society tends to overlook as a whole.

What initially inspired her to write this piece is the increasing islamophobia she sees in the world around her. She is a Pakistani-Muslim woman, and wants others to know the fear that needs to be overcome by herself and others just in order to wear a hijab. She believes strongly we must take steps toward acknowledging the atrocities against minority groups occurring on a daily basis, starting first with the countries we live in and their marginalized communities.

Stay tuned! In the coming months we will be featuring more insights and reflections from Collaborative members.

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Kristen Liesch