Quebec go-kart track turns away hijab-wearing teen

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A Gatineau, Que., go-karting facility says it was only considering a teen girl’s safety when it told her she couldn’t wear a hijab on the track.

“I understand why she was upset, but it’s a safety rule,” Top Karting office administrator Valerie Hurtubise said in an interview Friday. “We’re not going to change our policy.”

On Oct. 9, 16-year-old Zainab Mana went to the indoor go-kart track with her brother, but was told she could not wear her hijab, the Ottawa Citizen reported. She said she tried to wear just the helmet, but some of her hair and neck were still exposed. The hijab, a piece of clothing worn by some Muslim women, cover the hair, neck and sometimes chest.

Not being able to cover herself fully, Zainab said she was embarrassed and left.

“I didn’t belong there,” she said.

When Zainab’s older sister, Fatima, called Top Karting, a staff member told her, “We don’t allow s— on your head,” the newspaper reported.

An employee admitted saying the phrase, but Hurtubise said it was because he was frustrated Fatima was insisting her sister was turned away for religious reasons.

“He was mad because he was being harassed,” Hurtubise said, adding when the phrase was uttered, the employee had been on the phone with Fatima for more than 30 minutes.

The employee feels bad about the comment, she said.

Rules on the Top Karting website say “safety is number one” and drivers must wear appropriate clothing and closed-toe shoes when using the go-karts. Hurtubise said the rule regarding anything worn around the neck was put in place “not too long ago” after a woman on Top Karting’s track had her hijab caught in the axle of a go-kart. Hurtubise said the woman nearly lost some of her hair and could have been strangled.

Hurtubise said because Zainab was wearing a longer hijab that went below her neck, she was asked to remove it, just as anyone wearing scarves, hats or long necklaces are also asked to take those off before driving a go-kart.

“We prefer to have an article saying we refuse hijabs than an article saying someone has been hurt on our track,” Hurtubise said.

The Ottawa-area go-kart track is not the only one to bar the hijab. In 2014, the California branch of the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed complaints with the state’s department of fair employment and housing about Boomers Parks, which has a similar policy to Top Karting. Boomers management implemented the policy in 2010 and the company states on its website that users with long hair must tied it up above the shoulders.

In 2010, a 26-year-old Australian woman died from severe neck injuries and cardiac arrest after her hijab became caught in the axle of a go-kart.

The hijab has been raised as a safety concern in Quebec before, when the province’s soccer federation banned hijabs and turbans on the field during the summer of 2013.

The Quebec Soccer Federation was suspended by the Canadian Soccer Association and only relented when FIFA, the global governing body, officially said head coverings were permitted during games. That decision came after launching a two-year trial of allowing female players to wear hijabs. The ruling on head coverings extended to men after the issues was raised by Sikh community leaders in Canada.