News / Ottawa

'Sitting idle is not an option': OC Transpo driver sticks up for Muslim woman

Social media praise is pouring in for OC Transpo driver Alain Charette, who confronted a bus passenger for making Islamophobic comments to a Muslim woman.

OC Transpo bus driver Alain Charette is garnering social media praise after he stood up for Hailey, a Muslim woman who wears the niqab. Hailey said a fellow passenger made Islamophobic comments at her.

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OC Transpo bus driver Alain Charette is garnering social media praise after he stood up for Hailey, a Muslim woman who wears the niqab. Hailey said a fellow passenger made Islamophobic comments at her.

An OC Transpo bus driver is being called a hero after standing up for a young Muslim woman who was bullied for wearing the niqab.

Hailey – who only wants her first name used for privacy reasons – said she had just boarded the bus to the Rideau Centre on May 12 when a fellow passenger started calling her a terrorist and freak for her traditional head and face covering.

“At one point, he yelled at me to assimilate,” said the 20-year-old University of Ottawa student.

About five minutes into the packed bus ride, other passengers started telling the man to get off the bus. Apparently he had been making rude comments to other people during that trip.

According to Hailey, OC Transpo driver Alain Charette yelled at the man to get off the bus or else he would get the police involved.

“And the guy was like, ‘But look at her, sir, I’m afraid of her.’ And the bus driver was like, ‘You shouldn’t be afraid of her, you should be afraid of me,’” Hailey recalled.

Hailey said the incident rattled her – but mostly because of Charette’s kindness.

“It’s easy to just keep doing your job and just let the situation take care of itself but it takes real courage to actually stand up and stop it,” she said.

At Hurdman Station, the last stop of the ride, Hailey thanked Charette and asked for a selfie. She later wrote an article for Muslim Link, which has since garnered a lot of attention on social media.

“I didn’t even know his name,” she said. “I was hoping to get the article out just to tell the story and raise awareness, but also so he could get recognition because I think he deserves it.”

Charette has since posted a reply on his Facebook page, thanking Hailey for the article:

“Sitting idle is not an option. You are either part of the problem or on the side of the solution. I thank all those riders who made me aware of the problem by speeking (sic) up for you. I was a little slow to react because the noise of the bus was drowning everything and the attention needed to the driving part of the job. But once aware and parked, I had to speek up (sic). Happy to have been able to make a difference when life was challenging me to do it."

Amira Elghawaby, communications director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said Charette is a hero.

“It isn’t often that people necessarily know what to say or how to intervene if they do see somebody targeted in this way,” she said. “The actions of the bus driver are to be highly commended.”

She said she has been a victim of anti-Muslim bullying herself multiple times in the last 10 years. In one incident, a group of young men swerved their truck toward her while she was in a parking lot while they shouted profanities at her. She said Muslim women are often the targets of Islamophobic acts.

Hailey has heard it before, too. Last October, when she was wearing a hijab – a traditional Muslim headdress that covers the hair but not the face – a man on a bus called her second-class.

Even while walking in her picturesque, treelined neighbourhood near Algonquin College, Hailey said a man rolled by in a truck and yelled profanities at her.

But this latest incident has caused her a deal of anxiety, she said. She now carries a tiny container of dog repellent spray because the bus is her primary mode of transportation. She sometimes takes it at night, often following late dinners during Ramadan.

People don’t have to agree with her religion, but Hailey said she wishes they would put a lid on the hurtful comments. 

Even so, the insults won’t stop her from wearing the niqab.

“If you gave up on what you believe in just because someone didn’t like it, everyone would just be a carbon copy of each other and there would be no diversity.”

– With files from Joe Lofaro

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