Air Canada: Muslim group comes to defence of 12-year-old made to remove Hijab

A twelve-year-old girl, Fatima Abdelrahman, who was boarding an Air Canada flight wearing her hijab, has complained that the Airline officials harassed her over her religious gear. Airline officials had asked the 12-year-old who was travelling without her family, to remove her headscarf, and she had declined based on religious reasons. They had insisted.

It was Fatima's first time flying without her family and she’d been travelling with her U.S. Squash Junior National Team teammates from San Francisco International Airport to a tournament in Toronto.

The young girl was asked by airline officials to step aside, as her teammates proceeded to board the plane.  She told USA Today that she felt nervous when an Air Canada agent brought over a manager who also insisted that Fatima take off the hijab.

The group that Fatima was travelling with had already cleared the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint and was waiting at the gate when Air Canada officials asked her to remove her hijab during a passport check.

Although TSA's website state that people wearing head coverings, loose-fitting or bulky garments may undergo additional security screening, Air Canada on the other hand, appeared to have had nothing about head coverings publicly posted anywhere. 

When the airline insisted that Fatima remove the headscarf, she requested a private screening area. However, the airline ignored her request and instead they called a female Air Canada agent who brought Fatima into a tunnel near where passengers were meant to board.

"I told her, 'this is an open space; people can see me,'" Fatima said, noting she also pointed to security cameras.

The girl’s family was outraged when Fatima texted to narrate the incident at the airport.

"Hijab is a religious requirement for Muslim women as a form of modesty. Head covering is a common tradition for many religions, not only Islam. You might compare it to nuns who have to cover their hair," Fatima's father, Magdy Abdelrahman told USA Today.

The incident which happened on August 1st, 2019, has been taken up by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) who have filed a complaint letter with Air Canada for the incident with the now-13-year-old.

In an e-mail to Air Canada, CAIR wrote that the airline should update its boarding procedures to ensure something like this doesn't happen again.

"While these steps are necessary and long overdue, Air Canada’s response fails to acknowledge the emotional distress its actions caused Ms. Fatima as well as the violations of anti-discrimination laws," Ammad Rafiqi, civil rights and legal services coordinator for CAIR in San Francisco, wrote in the letter, quoted in USA Today.

"Our focus has been to receive a formal documented apology, monetary compensation as well as proof of an updated policy change from Air Canada on their identity screening procedures as well as their training manuals," Rafiqi said.

Fatima's sister, Sabreen, also tweeted that day about what happened, tagging Air Canada.

Air Canada replied saying.

"Hello Sabreen, we are truly sorry to hear about this situation and we certainly understand your concerns. May you please DM us your daughter's booking reference so we can better follow-up?"

Sabreen called this a half-baked apology.


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