Police won't let women wear niqabs in mugshots
Published Wednesday, March 31, 2010 6:53AM EDT
MONTREAL - Police forces in different parts of the country say charges will be laid against anyone who refuses to remove religious face-coverings such as Muslim niqabs when being booked after an arrest.
The RCMP and the Montreal police forces, who outlined the policy in interviews, laid down one notable caveat: such a case has never actually come up in either of their jurisdictions.
It's the latest wrinkle in an ongoing debate over the religious face-covering -- and one that has baffled a prominent member of the Islamic community in Canada.
"This is getting absurd, really," said Wahida Valiante, national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.
"There are only, in the entire Quebec province, 25 women who wear the niqab so they can't be in the highest number of criminals expected to be arrested."
The RCMP and the Montreal force confirmed that to their knowledge no one wearing a niqab has ever refused to remove it for a mugshot. In fact, they can't actually recall arresting anyone with a niqab either.
But that hasn't stopped speculation lately in the Quebec media about what would happen in the event that someone refused to cover their face for police.
The niqab has been a flashpoint in an ongoing debate in Quebec about how far people should go to accommodate religious minorities.
That issue recently flared up again when a woman refused to remove her veil during a French class.
It escalated to the point that the provincial government tabled a law saying women wearing niqabs would be denied government services and public-sector jobs.
Provincial statistics suggest this law would apply to less than a dozen women who actually demanded such services at the Quebec Health Department last year.
Some recent opinion polls suggest such get-tough measures might be popular not only in Quebec, but elsewhere in Canada.
While Montreal police sought legal advice on the issue a year ago, the RCMP say they've always followed the Identification of Criminals Act, part of the Criminal Code of Canada.
Sgt. Greg Cox said that provision states people have to comply with identification procedures and it allows for reasonable force to remove the face-covering if necessary.
But he explained that a police officer would not be getting rough with someone in those circumstances.
"Should they refuse, well then, you just lay the charge and the judge will order them to have it done because it's something that needs to be done. We're not going to hurt somebody over a photo."
Insp. Daniel Rousseau said Montreal police sought a legal opinion on the issue after street cops asked about it.
Rousseau said the legal advice pointed to the Identification of Criminals Act in the Criminal Code, which said people have to submit to photographs and fingerprints when they're booked.
"The person should agree by themself to participate at the activities of the identification," he said. "If not, the law has consequences for the person."
Rousseau said the only person who's ever resisted was a man who wouldn't provide fingerprints. He was warned he could face an additional charge and relented when he went to court and realized that the judge would impose it.
Valiante said she thought the issue had been dealt with already, when questions were raised about lifting the niqab to vote in federal elections.
"To my knowledge, so far, whenever the need was there to have, for instance, elections, pictures for your passports, and I think other medical identification, women have shown their face, they have lifted the niqab," she said.
She called any suggestion that someone wearing a niqab would refuse to be photographed for a mugshot "mind-boggling."
"You have a miniscule number of women who are wearing it," she said. "On top of that, there have been no disagreements when they were voting or they needed their passports or health cards."