Let me be the token French citizen and resident, here, and clarify a few misconceptions.
1) There is no general ban on the hidjab in France. There simply is not. Maybe Ms. Sahar al-Faifi was thinking of a recent law (enacted under the former president, right-wing leader N. Sarkozy) against the wearing of full-face veils, like niqab or burqa, in public spaces. (Wether this confusion was an honest mistake or deliberately done in order to generate F.U.D. about “islamophobia”, now, is another question.)
2) This law is a can of worms, that much is true. It was crafted as a way to combat Islamist (mostly Salafist) influence in the Muslim communities, and the government used a few high-profile incidents to justify what they saw as a “necessity” for this law: things like a niqab-clad woman refusing to take off her face veil to testify in court even though she was offered to do so in a side-room with a small number of witnesses. There was also a few jewelry thefts in Paris by men dressed up as female tourists from Saudi Arabia. The niqab served to hide their faces to security cameras in the luxury shops they “visited”! Of course (as could have been predicted by even the thickest of politicos if they had taken the time to think about social and historical circumstances), the law backfired and gave even more publicity to the ultra-conservative Islamists, who now can pose as “victims”. By the way, this law only entails first a cautioning, and then a fine for a repeat offense. But in some instances, it led to confrontation (also predictable) between the woman’s family and/or neighbours and the police, hence more incidents and heightened tensions with a part of the Muslim population. Sigh. There’s many reasons not to be a fan of Sarkozy, and this law is only one of them.
3) As for the hidjab or other religious garments like kippas, Sikh turbans, etc., that don’t hide the face, they are banned here in two very precise circumstances:
a) For students public schools and high-schools, on school ground and during school-organized excursions. The rest of their time, they do as they want.
b) For government workers, during their hours of work, including certain private contractors who provide a public service (like a hospital, nursing home or child-care), if they are subsidised by the national or local government.
But, and this is a very big “but”, these lregulations on religious symbols and garments have been accompanied for more than 20 years now by directives to help schools and other administrators enforce them in a conciliatory way, in order to let believers practice their religious customs (like covering their head) in a way that doesn’t attract disproportionate attention to them. For instance, a hidjab is out, but a bandanna knotted over the hair is fine, and so is any other kind of hat than a kippa. In fact, I have a colleague who is an Orthodox Jew and he’s perfectly OK with wearing a beret at work, and so is the government agency we both work for! (Berets are a commonplace style for men here, and so are bandannas and knitted hats for both sexes.)
What this means in practice is that no, a believer doesn’t have to “choose between [their] career and [their] religious/cultural identity”, as A Hermit fears, but find a style that doesn’t shout out loud “look at the religion first, but the citizen and human being last”. I hope Québec finds a way to build some similar compromise and spare themselves more political strife under the guise of religion.