Halifax bus driver hassles Muslim woman over headdress: eyewitness
Bus drivers' union apologizes, Metro Transit seeks details
Last Updated: Friday, March 13, 2009 | 5:43 PM AT
Metro Transit is investigating a complaint that a bus driver tried to stop a Muslim woman from boarding his vehicle because her face was covered.
Sarah Wilbur told CBC News she was outraged by what she saw Tuesday morning at a bus stop in south-end Halifax.
She said she could hear the bus driver yelling as a Muslim couple stepped onto the No. 17 bus at the corner of Jubilee and Robie streets.
"The bus driver was standing up, raising his voice," Wilbur said. "He was saying, 'I'm not letting you on this bus. That's the law, that's the law,' he kept repeating."
Wilbur decided to intervene.
"I got on the bus and I said, 'This doesn't sound like the law to me. It sounds like discrimination.'"
Wilbur said the driver was upset that the woman was wearing a headdress that allowed only her eyes to show.
"The bus driver said, 'Do you think you could go to a bank dressed like that? Do you think you could go to a bank with your face covered?'" said Wilbur.
Wilbur stayed on the bus for the next 10 minutes, urging the driver to call Metro Transit for advice. After making the call, the driver resumed his route with the couple on board.
Wilbur later complained about the incident to Metro Transit. She said the Islamic Association of Nova Scotia has filed its own complaint. The group couldn't be reached for comment.
Saleem Ahmed, a past president of the association, said Friday he was surprised to hear about the incident.
"This sort of incident has never happened in Halifax, especially on a Metro Transit or anything related to municipal services," he said. "Halifax has been fairly peaceful."
Ahmed said the incident should force Metro Transit to rethink the way it trains drivers.
Dan MacDonald, president of Local 508 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, called it an unfortunate incident. He said he has spoken to the driver and the driver is apologetic.
"On behalf of the Amalgamated Transit Union and its members, we apologize to this couple," MacDonald said.
Lisette Cormier, spokeswoman for Metro Transit, said an investigation is underway. She said officials confirmed the incident happened, but haven't spoken to the driver yet.
"There's no policy per se, but there is a practice in place where an operator can ask a person with his or her face covered to remove the item of clothing. In this particular case the operator called for clarification, which is the right thing to do," Cormier said.
According to the policies and guidelines on Metro Transit's website, drivers can deny access to passengers or kick them off if they cause a disturbance or damage the bus.
As for clothing, the website only says passengers are required to wear a shirt or top and footwear.
Cormier said Metro Transit will be drafting a new policy about wearing veils or scarves on the bus.
Getting the facts
In an official statement released late Friday afternoon, Metro Transit general manager Patricia Soanes said officials will speak to everyone involved to get all the facts.
"We take these allegations very seriously. The kind of behaviour reported is not and will not be tolerated," she said.
"HRM and Metro Transit have very firm guidelines with respect to appropriate behaviours. If this situation has been described accurately – then it is most regrettable and we will get to the bottom of it."