A Toronto mother claims a niqab-wearing school bus driver poses a safety risk because she’s not easily identifiable.
Stacy Joseph says she doesn’t think the niqab, a veil that some women in the Muslim community choose to wear to cover their faces, should be worn while driving her seven-year-old son or her four-year-old boy who has special needs.
“As a parent I’m concerned that I don’t know who is driving them,” Joseph told CityNews. “I know the other bus drivers, I know them by face, I know them by name so I can easily identify them.”
She says this is not about any particular person or religion, it’s about the safety of her children.
“It has nothing to do with religion or anything like that, it’s just a matter that her face is covered and if anybody’s face was covered I’d be concerned,” said Joseph.
Under the Ontario Human Rights code, bus drivers, like any other employee in the province, must be reasonably accommodated when it comes to their religious faith – and that includes allowing them to wear religious clothing.
While the niqab is sparking concern from Joseph, others in the community say, in their experience, it’s widely accepted.
Afia Baig has been wearing a niqab in Canada for the past 18 years and although she doesn’t know the bus driver personally, she says concerns of impersonation or identity issues can be quashed by just having regular conversations with the driver.
“I see where they’re coming from, but I think they have really nothing to fear about it,” said Baig. “I think its more the fear of what is behind, what the woman is going to be like, of who is going to be sitting behind the wheel, and when she gets to know her, I’m sure 100 per cent the fear will go away.”
Niqabs have sparked controversy in the past, with protests against a Quebec law that bans women wearing the veils from receiving or providing public service.
Religious rights and security rights also collided in 2010, with allegations Air Canada failed to visually verify the identity of women boarding a flight in Montreal.
But when it comes to this bus concern, legal experts say it does not qualify as competing rights issue.
“I can understand the parents concern, being a parent myself, but she does not have the right to tell the bus company who they can and cannot have as drivers,” lawyer Doug MacLeod explained.
The school board confirms all drivers have their official identification displayed and they’ve been thoroughly vetted, no matter what religion they may practice.
The school board has also offered to speak with any parents who have concerns about their bus drivers but they say they can only reach solutions that are fair for all parties involved.
CityNews attempted to contact the bus driver but those calls were not returned.