Quebec minister slammed for hypocrisy after meeting Malala amid religious symbols ban

Quebec minister slammed for hypocrisy after meeting Malala amid religious symbols ban
Quebec's Minister of Education Jean-Francois Roberge was accused of hypocrisy after posting a picture on Twitter of himself with Nobel Prize-winning human rights activist Malala Yousafzai
3 min read
07 July, 2019
Quebec's education minister Francois Roberge with human rights activist Malala Yousafzai [Twitter]
Quebec's Minister of Education has been slammed after suggesting that Nobel Prize-winning human rights activist Malala Yousafzai couldn't teach in his province while wearing a headscarf.

Jean-Francois Roberge, who met Malala while in France, was criticised on Twitter after sharing a picture of their meeting, in which he said they discussed education and international development.

Critics focused on Roberge's goverment's recent Bill 21 which prevents teachers from working in schools wearing a headscarf. Roberge was asked how he would respond if Yousafzai wanted to teach in the province.

He tweeted that if Malala wanted to teach in Quebec, Canada, it would be an honour, but like in other "open and tolerant countries, teachers can't wear religious symbols while they exercise their functions".

"Is the Quebec minister aware that she is very well acquainted with others demanding she live by their views on education and religion," one user asked on Twitter.

Malala is widely respected internationally as a global icon for girls' education. She became a global symbol for human rights after a gunman boarded her school van in Swat, Pakistan in 2012, asked "Who is Malala?" and shot her.

The youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, she has continued to be a vocal advocate for girls' education while pursuing her studies at Oxford University.

Bill 21, introduced last month, prohibits civil servants in positions of authority such as teachers, police officers, prosecutors and others like prison guards from wearing symbols of religion while at work. 

The law would apply to Sikh turbans, Christian jewelry and Jewish yarmulkes, but the focus of the controversy has been over hijabs worn by many Muslim women in Quebec.

"The proposed legislation will affect Muslims more than other groups as they are the fastest growing religious group," said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto. Muslims represent about 3 percent of Quebec’s 8.3 million people.

Thousands of demonstrators attended a recent march in Montreal to protest the measure, with some holding signs saying, "No one tells women what they can wear" and "It's what's in my head, not on my head, that matters".

Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is from Montreal, has spoken ill of Bill 21: "It's unthinkable to me that in a free society we would legitimise discrimination against citizens based on their religion," he said.

Malala began her campaign aged just 11, when she started writing a blog - under a pseudonym - for the BBC's Urdu service in 2009 about life under the Taliban in Swat, which they took over in 2007.

But it was only after the shooting, and a subsequent near-miraculous recovery, that she became a truly global figure.

As for the militants who attacked her: the man suspected of actually firing the gun at Malala, named by officials as Ataullah Khan, has long been believed to be on the run in Afghanistan, along with Pakistani Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah, who ordered the attack.

In 2015, it was reported that eight of 10 men who had been convicted over the attack had been cleared.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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