This is Toronto, Halima, T-O-R-O-N-T-O, not Mogadishu

Skirt too long to please employer
Muslim airport worker, laid off after altering uniform, takes case to rights commission
The Star
November 17, 2007
John Goddard, Staff Reporter

A few inches of skirt length have led to an airport security guard's suspension. The skirt is too long – not too short – to please the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.

Halima Muse, a practising Muslim, has been laid off without pay until she agrees to wear a standard uniform that includes either slacks or a skirt falling at the knee. Instead, she has filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission saying she is the target of religious discrimination, as Islam instructs that she dress modestly in a way that covers the body and conceals its curves.

"My skirt is not that much different – it's a bit longer," she said yesterday from her home not far from Pearson airport, where she has worked for more than five years. "It's not about style, it's about my dignity."

Muse, 33, is the single mother of one teenage son. She came to Canada from Somalia in 1989 and says she enjoyed working at the airport and never had problems with her immediate employer, Garda of Canada.

"I love my job," said Muse, who scanned passengers and luggage in the security area. "I like the people working with me. All the managers are nice to me. Most of the travellers are nice. We meet lots of different kinds of people ...

"It's flexible," she also said. "I pray five times a day for five minutes."

Until February of this year, Muse wore slacks with her uniform but never liked them, her brief to the commission says. They showed the shape of her body. She asked the Garda employee in charge of uniforms for a skirt longer than the standard one. No such skirt existed, she was told, but she negotiated a solution. Matching colour and material, she made her own skirt that reached the ankle.

For six months all went well, Muse said in the interview. Then a Garda manager said she must conform to regulations.

"The regulations are established by (the air transport security authority)," said Garda communications director Joe Gavaghan.

"We neither set those requirements nor can we interpret them ...

"We immediately went to (the federal authority) indicating what the situation was and asking them to please direct us as to what we could do. They came back and had made the decision that there are two alternatives: Women can wear a skirt that is knee length or they can wear pants."

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority will take questions next week, a spokesperson said.

Muse's suspension from work happened in stages. On Aug. 11, Garda suspended her one day for wearing the ankle-length skirt. On Aug. 15, she was suspended for three days. On Aug. 22, the penalty became five days. On Aug. 29, she was sent home indefinitely.

"I am talking for all women who would like to wear a long skirt – practising Christians, Jewish, Muslim, all of them," Muse said.

Taking a stand has already cost her, she said. Out of work nearly three months, she is running up debt on a credit card and borrowing money from her brother.

The federal employment insurance agency has refused to qualify her, she said, because she is not officially unemployed – she can go back to her job if she conforms to regulations she considers to violate her religious rights. The welfare department has similarly denied her application, she said.

Adjective: 1. Always the same, as in character or degree; unvarying.
2. Conforming to one principle, standard, or rule; consistent
3. Being the same as or consonant with another or others.
4. Unvaried in texture, color, or design.
Noun: 1. A distinctive outfit intended to identify those who wear it as
members of a specific group.
2. One set of such an outfit.
The American Heritage® Dictionary

Let us begin by clearing up one significant issue. Ms. Muse’s wardrobe choice is a cultural belief, not a religious one. The Qur'an enjoins women (and men) to dress modestly only. Nowhere is it mandated that they must cover their bodies almost completely from head to toe (actually an Arab tradition.)

“Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their chastity; that is purer for them. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their chastity, and not to make a display of their beauty except what is apparent, and let them cast a cover over their bosoms.... And turn to Allah (God) altogether, O believers, in order that you might succeed” (Qur'an 24: 30-31)

“O prophet, tell your wives, your daughters, and the wives of the believers that they shall lengthen their garments. Thus, they will be recognized and avoid being insulted. God is Forgiver, Most Merciful.” ( Qur'an 33:59)

These two short passages are the total dress instruction in the Qur'an. Ms. Muse may be alluding to the latter which mentions lengthening garments. However, no instruction is given regarding how long or, for that matter, which garments should be lengthened.

Ms. Muse comes from a society where “modestly” has long been interpreted as fully covered by some of the most strict, fundamentalist, hardline, male Islamic clerics on the planet. In the Canadian cultural context, a knee length skirt or slacks are considered modest dress.

Ms. Muse, who “loves her job,” has worked at the airport for over five years and has worn slacks during this time apparently without complaint. She was no doubt made aware of the conditions of employment when she accepted the position. Why the discomfort now?

Her employer, Garda of Canada, a Montreal based international security firm, does not dress their employees in a uniform for frivolous reasons. As a security organization it is essential that employees present to the public an appearance of competence and near-military efficiency. A standard uniform helps to produce that impression.

A popular buzzword regarding immigrants with respect to their culture and religion is “reasonable accommodation.” Garda have certainly been reasonable in allowing Ms. Muse time to pray. Prayer is religious. Dress is not. Expecting Garda to make exceptions to company dress policy is not reasonable.

This is Canada. On her own time, Ms. Muse is free to go about in a burqua, should she choose to do so. On company time, she is obliged to conform to the company standard.

Canada Employment Insurance and the local welfare office have made the correct decision in this instance.

Update: A Very Canadian Resolution to the Problem

TORONTO (Reuters) Nov.21,2007 - A Muslim airport screener who was suspended from her job at Toronto's Pearson airport because her skirt was too long has been allowed to return to work under a compromise with her employer.

The security company, Garda of Canada, has offered the worker, Halima Muse, a full-time administrative job that will allow her to wear civilian attire instead of the uniform required in her previous role, the Teamsters union said in a statement on Wednesday.

Muse's employer had suspended her for wearing a skirt longer than the knee-length garment the company had issued her. She wanted to wear the longer skirt to conform with the Islamic dress code.

The union, which represents security workers at Pearson airport, said Muse would also receive back pay for the three months she was on suspension.

Muse said she is content with the ruling as long as her salary stays the same.

Under the agreement, Muse will stay in the administrative position until the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) can evaluate its policies, which required Muse to choose between a shorter skirt or pants, neither of which she deemed modest enough. Garda of Canada said it had to follow CATSA's guidelines.

1 comment:

Samy said...

Toronto Airport Limo is a good taxi service which help the US people a lot while they are in very hurry to reach their destination..Or sometimes to catch their plan quick.Airport Limos caters to all your special requests.Toronto Airport Limo mainly concentrates on the airport pick up and drop and they are considered to be experts as they are the masters of airport travel.I liked this site as this tells about the transportation fact of world..And if you guys want well qualities transportation to the airport you can have some sites like this one..Plan your trip anytime with Airport Limo.So,ready to let the good times roll and make sure that your journey is a safe one.