- Published on Thursday, 01 April 2010 07:00
- Written by John Draper
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Belgium moved a step closer yesterday to becoming the first European Union country to punish Muslim women who hide their faces in public. A new law would say that anyone caught 'in public places with their face completely or partly covered or masked, so that they are no longer identifiable,' should be punished with a 15 to 25 euros fine ($20 to $34) and/or serve from one to seven days in prison. This follows action in France and Quebec.
Recent polls have showed that outlawing Muslim face veils is popular: France (70%) Spain (65%), Italy (63%), Britain (53%) Germany (50%) but not the U.S. (33%). Canadians also support such a measure: Quebec (95%), Alberta (82%), Ontario (77%), Atlantic (73%), BC (70%), Canadian men (83%), women (77%).
Muslim face veils were banned from French state schools in 2004, when a law against wearing religious symbols was passed. But Belgium would be the first member of the EU to introduce a total ban.
The burqa ban is expected to enter into force before the summer, as the full assembly of the Belgian parliament is set to give its final assent to the new law in mid-April.
Meanwhile Canadian 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.
And in Quebec, Justice Minister Kathleen Weil hopes the new law banning the wearing of the niqab while dealing with public services, will be adopted "as quickly as possible" and has not ruled out getting it through during the current sitting of Parliament, which ends June 11.
Belgium parliament votes overwhelmingly to ban burqa
Belgian lawmakers voted overwhelmingly April 29 to ban the wearing of the Islamic burqa in public, paving the way for the first clampdown of its kind in Europe.
In the lower house of federal parliament, 136 deputies voted to ban nationwide clothes or veils that do not allow the wearer to be fully identified, including the full-face niqab and burqa.
There were two abstentions. No one voted against.
The ban will be imposed in streets, public gardens and sports grounds or buildings "meant for public use or to provide services" to the public, according to the text of the bill.
Exceptions could be allowed for certain festivities like carnivals if municipal authorities decide to grant them.
People who ignore the new law could face a fine of 15-25 euros (20-34 dollars) and/or a jail sentence of up to seven days, unless they have police permission to wear the garments.
All governing parties and the opposition agreed on the move -- most on the basis that people cannot be recognised wearing the clothing.
The upper house of parliament has two weeks to raise any objections to the decision.
The Catholic bishop -- Belgium is traditionally Catholic -- in the southern town of Tournai, Guy Harpigny, said: "Does the state really have the right to regulate the symbols of personal beliefs?"
Controversy has also raged elsewhere in Europe over the wearing of Muslim veils and other religious garments in state or public institutions.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has declared the burka not welcome in France, calling it an affront to French values that denigrates women.
France's National Assembly will begin debate in early July on a bill banning Muslim women from wearing the full Islamic veil.
A final draft of the legislation outlawing the face-covering veil from all public spaces as well as state institutions is set to be approved by the cabinet on May 19.
Law now in force in Belgium
The law banning women from wearing the full Islamic veil in public has come into force in Belgium.
The country is the second European Union nation after France to enforce such a ban. Offenders face a fine of 137.5 euros (£121; $197) and up to seven days in jail.
Italy begins process to ban burqas
An Italian parliamentary commission has approved a draft law banning women from wearing veils that cover their faces in public.
The draft, which was passed by the constitutional affairs commission on Tuesday, would prohibit women from going in public wearing a burqa, niqab or any other garment that covers the face. It would expand a decades-old law that for security reasons prohibits people from wearing face-covering items such as masks in public places.
Women who violate the ban would face fines, while third parties who forced women to cover their faces in public would be fined and face up to 12 months in jail.
Italy is the latest European country to act against the burqa. France and Belgium have banned the wearing of burqa-style Islamic dress in public, as has a city in Spain. The Belgian law cited security concerns.