Police in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, this weekend unveiled official hijab-style headscarvesapproved for use by female Muslim officers, in a move that has revealed a growing split in attitudes towards the wearing of religious symbols across the country.
The Edmonton Police Service (EPS) said in a press release that the the hijab-style headscarf, which covers the hair and neck but not the face, was designed to “reflect the changing diversity in the community, and to facilitate the growing interest in policing careers from Edmonton’s Muslim community”.
Edmonton city councillor Scott McKeen said the move was a “gesture of inclusion” towards the Muslim community.
“One of the perceptions about Edmonton and Alberta is that we’re kind of redneck,” he told reporters, adding that the decision to allow headscarves was “sort of saying that we want to have a diverse police service that reflects the diversity and multicultural aspects of Edmonton.”
Alberta has Canada’s biggest Muslim community (some 45,000 Muslims in a total population of 700,000), followed by Ontario, which has allowed women police officers to wear hijabs since 2011, and then Quebec.
Ontario capital Toronto is looking to extend the freedom to wear religious symbols to other areas of the public service and there is also a campaign to make hijabs permitted in hospitals (see below).
But the attitude in Alberta and Ontario towards their Muslim populations is not shared by all its fellow Canadian provinces.
Notably, French-speaking Quebec is following fiercely secular France’s lead, and its National Assembly is poised to pass its “Quebec Charter of Values”.
The charter, part of a bill proposed earlier year by the nationalist Parti Quebéquois which dominates the assembly, would prohibit public employees at government offices, schools, hospitals, courts and police stations from wearing any religious symbols, including Muslim hijabs, Sikh turbans, Jewish kippas and visible crucifixes.
The move has seen widespread opposition from the province’s Muslim minority, with two protest marches against the proposed law in Montreal in recent months.