02/27/2015 04:43 EST | Updated 04/29/2015 05:59 EDT

FactBox: Canada's controversies over religious wear

A Quebec judge's refusal to hear a woman's case unless she removed her hijab in the courtroom sparked condemnation and controversy this week. Items of religious wear have touched off controversy and debate before in Canada. Here are some examples:

Hijab: Defined by the federal government as a traditional Islamic headscarf worn by Muslim women. The scarf typically covers the woman's hair, ears, and neck.

2011: A Montreal-area soccer association made headlines when it barred 15-year-old Sarah Benkirane from refereeing games while wearing her hijab. The headscarves had long been a source of controversy in the sport, but FIFA, the world's governing body for soccer, quashed the issue by permitting hijabs on the field starting in 2012.

2014: The Hijab is explicitly named in a controversial piece of legislation proposed by the Parti Quebecois government. The "values charter" would have banned all public sector employees from wearing religious symbols, including the hijab, on the job. The legislation died when the PQ was defeated in a provincial election.

2015: A Quebec judge refused to hear a woman's case unless she removed her hijab in the courtroom. The case has been adjourned indefinitely.


Several controversies simultaneously focus on two common pieces of Islamic religious attire worn by women:

Burka: A large, loose garment that the Canadian government describes as covering the hands and face, though many versions include components that fall to the feet. The burka often features a mesh screen over the eyes allowing women to see.

Niqab: A face-covering veil that leaves only a slit for the eyes.

2010: RCMP and Montreal police say that women who refuse to remove their full face coverings for a mugshot will have further charges laid against them.

2011: Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney establishes a policy that face coverings cannot be worn by women taking the oath of citizenship. The decision is challenged in court, and four years later a Federal Court judge struck down the policy as unlawful. The federal government is appealing the decision.

2012: The Supreme Court of Canada issued a rare 4-2-1 split decision that a witness at trial can cover their face in certain circumstances. The case involved a woman who said she should be allowed to wear her niqab while testifying against two men she accused of sexual assault.


Kirpan: The Canadian government defines the kirpan as a curved ceremonial dagger, usually about 20 centimetres long with a blunt tip, which Sikh men generally wear underneath clothing. Doing so is among the five religious obligations of Orthodox Sikh males. The kirpan is said to serve as a reminder of the constant struggle between good and evil.

1999: According to the Canadian government, the country's Human Rights Tribunal ruled that airlines are within their rights to prohibit Sikhs from carrying kirpans during air travel.

2001: Montrealer Gurbaj Singh Multani, then a 12-year-old student, accidentally dropped his 20-centimetre ceremonial dagger at school. It triggered a five-year-long dispute with the school board over his right to wear the kirpan. In 2006 in a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld his right to wear it to school.

2011: Security guards at the Quebec legislature raise eyebrows by forbidding four Sikhs wearing kirpans to enter the building. The move reignited debate on the issue and prompted the federal Bloc Quebecois to propose a motion banning kirpans from the House of Commons. The motion failed after being rejected by other parties.


Turban: According to the Canadian government, wearing a turban is among the five religious obligations of Orthodox Sikh males. Sikh men must keep their hair uncut and wrapped in a turban as a symbol of respect for God.

1994: When executives with the Royal Canadian Legion proposed a measure that would have allowed veterans to wear turbans and all other forms of religious headgear in their facilities, debate erupted almost immediately. In the end, legion members voted overwhelmingly against the proposal, leaving it up to individual legion halls to decide whether to enforce the policy.

1996: The Supreme Court refused to hear efforts to overturn a controversial RCMP policy, which allows Sikh officers to wear turbans on the job instead of the standard-issue headgear. Opponents of the policy argued that allowing Mounties to don religious garb was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, since it could prevent officers from being neutral or free from religious bias.

2013: The head of the Quebec Soccer Federation makes international headlines by saying that Sikhs who wish to play the sport while wearing turbans should play in their own yards. The ban ignored a non-binding directive from the Canadian Soccer Association, which has called for provincial associations to allow turbans. The world soccer governing body has no clear rule regarding Sikh headgear.