So, now it’s not about the economy or security, it’s about the niqab and whether a Muslim woman has the right to wear the religious facial covering during citizenship ceremonies. This is known as a “wedge issue,” which seeks to split citizens and political parties along divisive lines. The issue has gained a lot of traction with 83 per cent of Canadians that were surveyed supporting the requirement that women remove niqabs or burkas during the ceremony. The survey was ordered by Stephen Harper and paid for by Canadian taxpayers. It cost $133,000.
In early September, the Federal Court ruled that the ban was unlawful. The ruling was immediately appealed and the Federal Court of Appeals has refused to suspend its ruling. Zunera Ishaq is still required to remove her niqab, in private and in front of an official, before taking her oath, but may wear it during the ceremony as she becomes a new Canadian.
In response, Stephen Harper has ramped up the dialogue on the campaign trail by vowing to pass legislation within 100 days of taking office that will ban the wearing of the niqab by public servants.
We have seen this dog-and-pony show before, in a number of different forms. During the Quebec election in 2014, Premier Pauline Marois made the Charter of Quebec Values the central election issue, which proposed a prohibition on wearing or displaying conspicuous religious symbols for public sector employees. During the 2005 election in England, Conservatives used slogans such as “It’s Not Racist to Impose Limits on Immigration” on election signs. That campaign was run by Lynton Crosby, who has now been hired to advise the Conservative campaign in this election. Both the Parti Quebecois and the English Conservatives lost their respective elections.
Let’s be clear. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms ensures that all Canadians have fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion. The Charter also affirms that we are a multicultural country and that enacted laws must be consistent with this ideal. Finally, the Charter protects minority rights and protects citizens from abuse of power by the government.
As it stands, the only way for laws banning niqabs to be “legal” is for the government to use the notwithstanding clause, thereby stripping some fundamental freedoms away from a very small group of its citizens.
Canadian values are enshrined in our Charter. They define who we are as a country and as citizens. Promoting unlawful legislation and shadow racism is a pathetic way to try and win an election.