The parents of children in a much-shared photograph of niqab-wearing daycare teachers say the outrage surrounding the photo is rooted in fear and ignorance, and they demand that Quebecers stop physically attacking and insulting people who are different.

The photo popped up last week after being taken on Nov. 15, 2013 during the lunch hour at the corner of Verdun St. and Richard St. in Montreal's borough of Verdun.

Following a social media uproar one of Quebec's best-known radio hosts, Benoit Dutrizac, interviewed the photographer who said she was shocked when she spotted the women walking the children across the street.

She refused to share her full name out of fear of being attacked, but her photo has sparked a torrent of hate and abuse from Quebecers -- including from Dutrizac who told a parent of one of the children that she "should be ashamed."

In their letter to the public, the parents of the children involved say those comments are unacceptable in modern society.

"This photo leaves in its wake a huge range of comments, some violent (“2 bullets; it’s hunting season, let’s go!”), some Islamophobic (“Let’s burn these women and rape them like pigs!”), some calling for tolerance (“These children look fine and don’t seem affected by the difference”), some ignorant (“These children must have nightmares at night after seeing ghosts all day”).

"We are the parents of the children in the photo. This is the point we want to discuss. Not to debate the charter, one way or the other, not to push our positions, not to talk pro- or anti-hijab/niqab."

Mothers, children see faces of teachers

Contrary to what most Quebecers think, the women in this photo do not wear veils over their face all day: they only cover their faces when in the presence of adult men who are not of their family.

"The mothers and children were able to see the faces of the educators (who, to be clear, remove their veil for the entire day in the presence of the children). The fathers had to make an additional effort to get past this physical barrier. But the trust came. And with that, our apprehensions, our fears, our doubts all quietly faded away," write the parents in their letter.

But the parents say that Quebecers are showing their intolerance with hateful speech and violent acts, and they are worried that thugs will attack their children.

"It comes from the horrible scenes where people empty their glass in the face of the educators, insult them in the park in the presence of our children... This time, our heart tells us that our kids are in danger."

The parents say they support their daycare teachers, because they know they are good, decent, loving people who are respectful of others.

"[We] know that these women were born and/or raised in Quebec. We now know that their husbands support them every step of the way in their choice to wear or not to wear the veil (conscious of the fact that not wearing the niqab would certainly be less stressful for their family!). We know they are university-educated, that they speak English and French. That they are loving. We know they take care of our children as if they were their own.

"Their niqab is, in our eyes, a decision that is their own. No matter what the reasons. The important thing, for us and our children, is who they are as people," states the letter.

Above all, the parents say Quebecers who disagree should first begin by acting with respect.

"They do not want to indoctrinate the children of those who don’t share their faith... Our childrens’ smiles when speaking about them is all the proof we need.

"But above all else, if you don’t agree with their choices, we beg you: respect them, and our children too."

Government investigating

Bernard Drainville, the minister of charge of the ban on religious symbols, was harshly critical of the niqab-wearing teachers on Wednesday.

In a radio interview he said "This is shocking, this is troubling, this is not acceptable, and this is why we need to pass our Charter [of Values]. Because our Charter will ban this type of behaviour."

He did admit that private, unsubsidized daycares were not covered by the Charter, but he is now willing to expand his proposed legislation.

"The Charter as it stands does not cover private non-subsidized daycare. There will be a parliamentary commission and we're going to be listened to suggestions or recommendations that could be made on this precise topic," said Drainville.

Speaking in Quebec City on Thursday, Drainville said the government was "reluctant" to extend the ban on religious symbols to the private sector -- in stark contrast to what he told CTV Montreal two weeks ago, when he said that restrictions on religious symbols would apply even to privately-contracted cleaning staff working overnight in government offices who had no interactions with anyone.

Drainville said he would wait and hear what people said during the public hearings on Bill 60 before making a decision.

Meanwhile the provincial government it will investigate the private daycare in question out of concerns it may be caring for more children than is permitted.


We Are the Parents