Australia police chief demands powers on veil

AFP, SYDNEY

Mon, Jul 04, 2011 - Page 5

One of the most senior policemen in Australia yesterday said authorities must have clear legal powers to require people to remove face coverings, including veils, if they are to do their job properly.

The comments by New South Wales state Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione follow the case of Carnita Matthews, who in November last year was sentenced to six months jail for falsely accusing police of forcibly trying to remove her burqa.

It followed the woman being pulled over for a traffic offense.

Her sentence was quashed last month when a magistrate said he could not be 100 percent sure it was Matthews who made the complaint because officers were not able to see the face of the accuser.

Scipione told the Sydney Sunday Telegraph there must be one law for everyone — regardless of their race or religion.

“This is not about disrespect; this has got nothing to do with -religion,” he said. “It wouldn’t matter whether it was a full-face motorcycle helmet or a balaclava at the snowfield: People have to do what they’re required to [by police].”

“Whether you’re wearing a veil, whether you’re wearing a full-face motorcycle helmet, a ski balaclava in the snowfields — if there is a lawful reason, if there is a need for police to actually identify the person, then this should not be in the gray,” Scipione said. “It should be something everyone clearly understands.”

Scipione said he had held talks with senior politicians who had indicated that if there was a loophole, then they would work to close it.

“This is not something we can just allow to continue,” he said, adding that frontline police officers had to be protected from vindictive complaints, which could ruin careers. “I get absolutely filthy when people want to make complaints that are clearly false. If you do that, and I catch you, we will charge you.”