All in on burqa debate as woman kicked off bus

08:33, Jul 05 2011
THE EYES HABIT: Adeeba Jabbar of Porirua in her full-face hijab, similar to  the clothing that resulted in two other women being refused bus service in Auckland.
EYES ONLY: Adeeba Jabbar of Porirua in her full-face hijab, similar to the clothing that resulted in two other women being refused bus service in Auckland.

A bus driver refusing entry to a woman in a burqa is a clear case of discrimination, the Race Relations Commissioner says.

The Saudi Arabian student was left crying on an Auckland street when the bus driver refused to let her board because of her Muslim veil.

The Consulate-General of Saudi Arabia has written to the Government to complain about that incident, and another two days earlier when a driver for the same company, NZ Bus, told another woman to remove her veil.

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres tonight told the Close Up television show that it was a clear case of discrimination on the grounds of religious belief, which had no place in New Zealand.

He said that because the bus driver, like anyone in a position of power or control, had an obligation to respect peoples beliefs.

However he remained optimistic that the situation would be resolved and that similar incidents would not be repeated.

"I'm sure this will find a solution.''

Women's Affairs Minister Hekia Parata said there were clear laws about religious freedom, but compromises must sometimes be made.

"Where there are security or safety issues that are paramount then there are compromises called for and we've seen that happen here in New Zealand where there was a closed-circuit court case that allowed a woman to give her evidence without having to unveil herself."

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There was no such need in this case, she said.

"I think that that's being investigated now and as we become an increasingly multi-cultural nation we have to encounter these challenges and find compromises that work for our country."

Maori Party MP Rahui Katene said she hoped the Human Rights Commission would contact the bus company involved.

Prime Minister John Key said cultural beliefs should be respected and women should not be discriminated against because they wear a burqa.

Key said New Zealand was a tolerant and inclusive society.

''I think where practical, and on both sides, people should respect others' culture and cultural beliefs. There is practical reasons why sometimes a burqa won't be applicable; banks for example for security reasons from time to time they will enforce that.

''But for the most part we are a multi-cultural society and we should respect other's cultural beliefs.''

There was no need to ban the wearing of burqa in public, Key said. France last year passed a law banning the wearing of face veils in public.

Key said he was comfortable with women wearing burqa. ''It doesn't offend me. It's part of people's beliefs.''

However, Labour leader Phil Goff said he personally didn't like the burqa.

''But if somebody chooses to wear that, and that's their personal choice, and they're not doing harm to me, then I'm not going to tell that person how they should present themselves.''

He agreed with the prime minister there was no need for a ban in New Zealand.

''When I was a young Catholic kid, all the nuns in those days wore the gown and they had all of their hair covered and we thought nothing of it.

''I think it's live and let live. We are a tolerant society.''

NZ Bus said both drivers involved in the incidents had been sent on counselling programmes and had been found to be suffering from ''maskophobia''.

''Both drivers ... claim it's not religious ... but they genuinely have a phobia of people wearing masks, hence why we have not dismissed them,'' general manager Jon Calder said yesterday.

Sameer Aljabri, the husband of one of the women, said he would lodge an official complaint with the Human Rights Commission on behalf of his wife, whom he would not name. She had been travelling with the couple's one-year-old son in May.

The letter from the Saudi consulate to the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry said that, two days later, student Gawheer Saud Al Thaubity was left on a street crying.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said he had not heard from the Saudi consulate but had asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for information about the incidents.

* Comments are now closed on this story.

The Dominion Post