An American-Islamic civil rights group has filed an official complaint with Air Canada on behalf of a 12-year-old Muslim girl who was allegedly forced to remove her hijab in public by the airline’s employees.
According to an official complaint letter sent to Air Canada from the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SFBA), the incident took place on August 1, 2019.
Fatima Abdelrahman, 12, was standing in line at San Francisco International Airport waiting to board her flight to a squash tournament in Toronto with her fellow US National team members.
Abdelrahman was approached by a male-identifying Air Canada employee who allegedly told her to remove her hijab as part of the airline’s pre-boarding identification procedures.
The young squash player told the employee that “she wears the hijab because of her sincerely-held religious beliefs as a practicing Muslim, where she chooses to cover herself in front of men who are not related to her and more generally, in public.”
Two other Air Canada employees then approached the girl and repeated that “she needed to remove her hijab because she was not wearing it in her passport photo.”
Abdelrahman requested she be taken to a private screening area but she was “refused this request and escorted [her] to a tunnel nearby where she had to remove her hijab publically, ” states CAIR-SFBA.
Abdelrahman’s sister, Sabreen, took to Twitter to complain about the incident.
. @AirCanada pls explain why you pulled aside my 12yr old sister for flight 758 making her take off her hijab AT THE GATE?? AFTER she already passed security??
Thx for ruining her experience as the first U.S. National Team Squash player in Hijab + her first time traveling alone
— Sabreen Abdelrahman (@Sabreen_magdy) August 1, 2019
Air Canada responded to the complaint in an email, saying that it had updated its boarding procedures to ensure identity screenings conducted by airport agents not require the removal of religious head coverings.
The CAIR-SFBA says the airline’s “reply did not acknowledge the impact on [Abdelrahman] nor that the actions undertaken were arbitrary and discriminatory in nature.”
“CAIR-SFBA, along with our client, are committed to ensuring that in the future individuals hoping to travel with Air Canada or other airlines are not subject to differential treatment based on their religious beliefs and how they choose to observe their faith,” said Ammad Rafiqi, CAIR-SFBA’s Civil Rights and Legal Services Coordinator.
“We hope Air Canada will show responsibility by coming to the table in good-faith to ensure that Fatima is made whole for having her right to privacy violated and the ensuing distress she felt during the trip.”
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