The tail of the newly revealed Air Canada Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft is seen at a hangar at the Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ont., Thursday, February 9, 2017. Air Canada says its deal to acquire travel company Transat A.T. Inc. has cleared another hurdle. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Air Canada forced girl, 12, to remove hijab: civil rights group

The San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations calling for change

A Muslim civil rights advocacy group is demanding changes at Air Canada after a 12-year-old U.S. Squash Team player says she was forced to remove her hijab while boarding at San Francisco International Airport.

The San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a letter sent Friday that federal and state laws were violated when an Air Canada gate agent demanded that Fatima Abdelrahman remove her religious head covering.

Abdelrahman requested a private area so she could remove her headscarf in private and in the exclusive presence of female Air Canada agents, but the council says airline employees refused.

The advocacy group is seeking the airline order cultural competency training for employees and policy changes prohibiting discrimination. It wants monetary damages for emotional distress, a formal written apology, and reprimand of employees involved.

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Abdelrahman was travelling Aug. 1 to Toronto with her team for an international tournament and had had no issues with TSA’s security screening.

“This experience not only went against Ms. Fatima’s reasonable request to be able to adhere to her religious beliefs but also left her feeling angry and humiliated,” wrote Ammad Rafiqi, a civil rights and legal services co-ordinator at the CAIR-SFBA.

The exchange became public when Abdelrahman’s older sister complained about the incident on Twitter.

Air Canada did not respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment Friday.

In its letter, CAIR-SFBA says that an Air Canada customer service manager emailed the Abdelrahman family Aug. 19 to say the airline had updated its boarding policies so agents need not remove religious head coverings in order to conduct identity screenings.

The response, however, did not address the emotional distress inflicted on Abdelrahman or violations of anti-discrimination laws, the organization said.

The Associated Press

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