An observant Muslim woman has been suspended without pay from her job screening passengers and baggage at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport since August over an extra 30 centimetres of navy blue fabric added to the skirt of her uniform out of religious convictions Halima Muse, 33, felt thestandard-issue knee-length skirt was not modest enough.
After five years of being ill-at-ease working in slacks, she made herself an ankle-length skirt out of nearly identical material and wore it for almost seven months before finally catching the eye of an operations manager.
On Aug. 11, Ms. Muse was sent home and has not been allowed to return to the job she held for close to six years with the private security firm Garda.
Garda is contracted by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority to X-ray hand luggage and wave a metal detector over travellers.
On Monday she filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission alleging discrimination.
“I practise my religion and I have to wear a skirt because it’s a religious issue,” said Ms. Muse, who works for Garda, which answers to CATSA. “It’s not that I like it. I have to — it’s my religion.”
Ms. Muse, the single mother of a 14-year-old son, doesn’t understand why the permission she is seeking is such a big deal when some of her colleagues hem their skirts shorter and religious garb like turbans, kippas and headscarves are permitted as part of the uniform.
Ms. Muse’s union and the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations are also perplexed. Both groups are supporting Ms. Muse’s fight.
Ed Hawrysh, a trustee with the Teamsters Local 847, said the union filed a grievance with Garda, but CATSA determines uniform policy.
“Look at the RCMP,” Mr. Hawrysh said. “If the national police force can accommodate that type of religious belief, I can’t understand why CATSA can’t do something even simpler. We’re talking about a skirt. This is an issue in CATSA where they’ve made a decision and they’re not prepared to move, right, wrong or otherwise. I think it’s totally ridiculous.”
James Robbins, Ms. Muse’s lawyer, said the courts have repeatedly ruled in favour of accommodating minority religious rights as long as the concession is reasonable and does not constitute an undue hardship for others.
“It’s seems pretty reasonable to let the poor woman lower her hemline a few inches,” he said.
Garda, the private security firm, says it was just enforcing CATSA’s rules in suspending Ms. Muse and even approached the agency to find out if it would make an allowance for her longer skirt.
“What they came back with was that they felt that the current policy they had with those alternatives addressed the concern that she had and so for that reason they were not making a change to the policy for a longer skirt length,” Garda spokesman Joe Gavaghan said.
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Hodgins, after a July 16, 2007 article by Allison Hanes in The National Post