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How Many Quebec Women Wear The Niqab Anyway?

Estimates vary.

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Quebec's new religious neutrality law requires Muslim women who wear a niqab to uncover their faces to receive government services, but no one seems to know exactly how many women in the province actually wear one.

Peter Mccabe / The Canadian Press

"We're talking about a tiny fraction within a fraction of the community," said Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. "It seems very clear that what this boils down to is ugly identity politics."

The Quebec government insists that no religious group is being singled out in Bill 62, which the National Assembly passed on Wednesday.

Much of the debate, however, has focused on what Muslim women wear, as did 2013's Quebec Charter of Values and a previous legislative effort in 2010.

For all the attention they get, there are very few niqabi women in Quebec — although estimates vary.

Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press / Via environicsinstitute.org

Frédéric Castel, a researcher at Université du Québec à Montréal, estimates there are between 50 and 100 women — out of some 150,000 Muslim women in the province — who wear the veil.

The Muslim Council of Montreal believes there are fewer, telling BuzzFeed Canada in a statement that there are "no more than 50 women in Quebec."

Others say the number is even smaller than that. Shaheen Ashraf, a board member of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, told CBC Radio's As It Happens there are "maybe 10 or maybe 15" women in all of Quebec who wear the niqab.

"It's difficult to know an exact number. To our knowledge, no census has ever been done," CCMW president Nuzhat Jafri told BuzzFeed Canada.

No matter the precise number, critics of Bill 62 say there's no doubt about whom the law is targeting.

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"The messaging that they're putting out, that this is not about religious symbols or targeting one particular group, they're also discussing masked protesters and whatnot — our view is that this is a bit of a red herring," said the NCCM's Gardee.

He said the highest estimate he had heard was 300, and that the small number of Muslim Quebecers who actually wear the niqab underlined the absurdity of the law.

Ishmael Daro is a social news editor for BuzzFeed and is based in Toronto.

Contact Ishmael N. Daro at ishmael.daro@buzzfeed.com.

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