A controversial cartoon in a Montreal newspaper over the weekend has further fuelled the niqab controversy and angered Muslims in Canada.
The controversy, which was sparked by a Muslim woman's refusal in November to remove her veil in her French language class in Montreal, has been further inflamed by the controversial cartoon in the Montreal Gazette at the weekend.
In the cartoon, a Muslim woman is depicted in niqab from top to toes, with the slit space for her eyes shown in jail bars and a lock.
Defending it, the cartoonist Terry Mosher said he drew it to oppose the Muslim woman's argument in favour of the veil and encourage debate over the issue.
"In the (Montreal) Gazette this morning, there is actually an editorial in support of the woman, and yet my cartoon is against it. So that is part of the discussion and I think that's a very healthy thing,'' the cartoonist told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
The controversy erupted after the Muslim woman Naima Atef Amed, a mother of three who is a new immigrant to Canada, filed a petition with the human rights commission in Quebec province for violations of her religious rights two weeks ago.
But the director of the college - CEGEP de Saint-Laurent - in Montreal said they tried to accommodate the woman's demands by allowing her to wear the niqab, giving her the front seat and letting her make her presentations from the rear of the classroom with her back to the class so that boys male students didn't see her.
Matters came to a head when the woman asked male students to move away from her and refused to sit with them around a U-table for conversation skill development classes.
Canadians have reacted angrily to the woman's insistence to wear the niqab, with demands for a review of immigration policies and ban on symbols of oppression even as Muslim leaders have slammed the cartoonist. This is "a distasteful way of showing the cartoon and of showing the lock - the woman is locking herself. Why is he (cartoonist) advancing those ideas again and claiming this would inspire debate?" said Montreal Muslim Council leader Salam Elmenyawi on the news network.
Canada is home to more than a million Muslims in its population of over 33 million. But according to the latest figures, the Muslim population is set to triple in the next two decades, making them the fastest growing group in Canada.