A Montreal woman claims controversial Bill 21 is emboldening Islamophobes after a man tugged on her niqab and shoved her in the chest as she walked to a metro station.
Fatima Ahmad believes she was targeted because of her face veil and linked the incident to the tabling of Quebec’s secularism bill, which bans the wearing of religious symbols in some public service roles.
"I was very shocked. I didn't know how to react," said Ahmad.
“I received a lot of Islamophobic comments before Bill 21. The majority of the people who used to comment were older white men, this was my experience 95% of the time,” she told CJAD radio’s Shuyee Lee.
“But now with Bill 21, I see this has extended to everyone. I see the older people doing it, the younger people doing it, the men, the women, people of different colours.
Ahmad managed to take a picture and video of the man as she ran after him from Charlevoix station and included these in her police report.
“I am 100 per cent sure that Bill 21 is making people more confidence they can discriminate, abuse and not stand up to injustices,” the 22-year-old said.
“As a Canadian and a Quebecer, I feel totally unwanted. I feel my rights are being taken away.”
The McGill education student said she is unsure of her future as Bill 21 proposes teachers will not be permitted to wear niqabs in the classroom.
“From all angles, I am kind of stuck,” she said. “I don’t know how to live here anymore.”
Montreal police told CTV News Montreal they are investigating the incident.
“It was a very bad experience, but something that I kind of knew would happen given that I’m facing so many Islamaphobic incidents in this past couple of months,” Ahmad said.
The Coalition Avenir Quebec government's Bill 21 would prohibit public sector workers in positions of authority, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols on the job.
Montreal city council voted unanimously in April to oppose the bill.
Meanwhile, the president of a major feminist organization says Quebec's secularism bill is sexist and a direct attack on women's bodies.
Gabrielle Bouchard of Federation des femmes du Quebec told the committee studying the bill on Thursday the legislation is particularly discriminatory to Muslim women who wear the hijab.
But Bouchard admits her federation once supported legislation prohibiting public sector workers such as police officers and judges from wearing religious symbols at work.
She says the feminist federation changed its position after recognizing the harm such a law would do to Muslim women.
The Federation des femmes du Quebec stands in direct contrast to another women's group that appeared in front of the committee last week.
The feminist group Pour les droits des femmes du Quebec told the committee studying the bill that the legislation should go further and apply to daycare workers.
Earlier this week, sociologist Guy Rocher told the committee studying Bill 21 that the proposed law is not "anti-Islamic" as many opponents have claimed.
The only reason people think the bill targets Muslims is because the Islamic religion is currently the "most visible" in society, he said.
"The government has the responsibility to legislate in order to establish equality between all the religions," Rocher said.
--- With files from The Canadian Press