The Quebec government sent inspectors to a private home daycare in Montreal shortly after two childcare workers were photographed wearing niqabs while they were outside with the children.
But the government says its inspections were to ensure the home daycare is operating legally — not to oversee what religious dress the employees wear.
“We got some information telling us to go do an inspection — not pertaining to the niqab, not pertaining to how the educators are dressed. It’s relating to whether or not they are operating legally — if they have six children or fewer,” said Quebec’s minister of the family Nicole Léger, adding that the government has no jurisdiction over the dress code in private home daycares.
A private non-subsidized home daycare does not need a permit to operate in Quebec and does not need to be registered either.
The only requirement is that the daycare not take in more than six children.
Inspectors went to visit the daycare twice, and a report will be ready in the coming days.
The daycare gained notoriety this week after someone snapped a picture of its workers wearing the full Muslim veil.
The photo — which was distributed on social media — shows two daycare workers wearing the niqab, as they accompany six children on a walk in Montreal's Verdun borough.
Parents defend daycare workers
A group of 13 parents who send their children to that daycare have written a letter saying the staff have always taken care of their children with love, and that the veils are removed once they are inside.
'These women, and their husbands as well, open their doors to you …' - Letter from group of parents
The parents acknowledge that while they were at first concerned about the veils, “our apprehensions, our fears, our doubts all quietly faded away.”
Now the parents say a new source of fear has infiltrated their circle — an external one.
They say they have been bombarded, describing how neighbours have insulted the teachers in front of the children, while they play at the local park.
“Our kids are in danger,” the letter states.
“To the people shouting their insults and taking photographs: these women, and their husbands as well, open their doors to you to discuss … Our children's smiles when speaking about them is all the proof we need … if you don’t agree with their choices, we beg you: respect them, and our children too.”
Drainville pleads for 'common sense'
As it stands now, the Parti Québécois’s secular charter would not interfere with a case like this — the restrictions would only apply to staff at public daycares (CPEs) or private daycares subsidized by the government.
- Breaking down Quebec's secular charter
- How Quebecers are reacting to the secular charter
- Quebec's secular charter: Bill 60
Bernard Drainville, the minister responsible for the secular charter, said that when his party created Bill 60, it decided that interfering with what someone could wear in the private realm would go too far.
But that didn’t stop Drainville from making his own plea.
"Whether or not the charter is modified, there is nothing stopping the owner of a non-subsidized private daycare from asking their educators to keep their faces uncovered while working with children. It's a question of respect for the children. It's a question of common sense.”
Drainville said that he would consider expanding the charter to apply to private, non-subsidized daycares in the ban, if it's brought up during upcoming parliamentary meetings.
Parents send letter