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Quebec's Hijab Controversy: Bend it like Benkiran

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Last week a 15-year-old girl, Sarah Benkiran, was told she could no longer referee for the Lac St. Louis Soccer Association. It wasn't because of her age, her qualifications as a referee or because of anything she did wrong. It was simply because she wears a hijab.

Religious freedoms, multiculturalism and reasonable accommodation have been on the forefront of the public discourse here in Quebec lately. In 2009, a woman wearing a niqab was kicked out of a publicly-funded French language class, which led to the introduction of Bill 94 in the National Assembly, barring niqabs from any public or governmental institution. Sikhs were denied access to the Quebec legislature earlier this year, which prompted Louise Beaudoin of the Parti Québecois to state:

"Religious freedom exists but there are other values. For instance, multiculturalism is not a Quebec value. It may be a Canadian one but it is not a Quebec one".

As offensive and acerbic as this statement may seem at face value, it is worth pointing out that it is true. Quebec has never embraced multiculturalism as one of its policies, and isn't likely to start in the near future. In a province that prides itself on repressive, Draconian language laws such as Bill 101, we should not be surprised that multiculturalism is not something that is on the vanguard of Quebec policy.

However, there is a difference between not adhering to the Canadian notion of multiculturalism and flat out discrimination, and it's staring right at us through Ms. Benkiran. This situation has nothing to do with multiculturalism, or reasonable accommodation. It is about people hiding behind the guise of rules in order to effectively discriminate against Muslim women.

FIFA banned the hijab in 2007 from the soccer field because it posed a choking hazard to players, and recently the ban was extended to neck warmers for the same reason. Makes sense. If my years as a college athlete taught me anything, it was that safety comes first. Although, Ms. Benkiran is not playing on the field, she's reffing. OK, let's try again.

Quebec Soccer Federation president, Dino Madonis, stated that Lac St. Louis Soccer Association is simply upholding Law 4 of FIFA, which states, "The basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements."

Ah, strike two.Yet again; this does not seem to apply to the situation at hand since the rule in question is referring to what is acceptable to wear amongst players.

In fact, Law 5 of the FIFA Laws of the Game makes no mention of referees being upheld to the same standard as players when it comes to the dangers of wearing equipment that has any political, religious or personal statements. (Go ahead, read the rules for yourself here.)

Moreover, if I may act as a whistleblower (pun semi-intended) to the entire rationale behind FIFA's very own rules, doesn't a nation's flag constitute a political statement? Does that mean that every jersey with a nation's colours, flag or crest would be deemed contradictory to the very rules set in place by FIFA?

The Lac St. Louis soccer Association and the Quebec Soccer Federation are hiding behind FIFA rules and claims that in order for the rules to be amended Ms. Benkiran must address the world soccer association. While she's addressing them she should ask what the world soccer association's views are on having games officiated by 15-year-olds. I'm guessing it's frowned upon.

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