“I don’t understand why this is an issue!” That is the refrain I hear time and again from progressive commentators and media types when the debate over the niqab and the citizenship ceremony comes up.
And that's if they are being nice and not declaring the overwhelming majority of Canadians to be simple-minded racists.
Our poll of 1,505 Canadians found 78% agree that face coverings should be removed. That kind of support cuts across party lines, demographic lines, cultural lines.
Every political party would love to have 78% support for their plans. Few will.
Yet in English Canada the media is universally appalled that this topic is even being discussed.
When Zunera Ishaq’s court victory came two weeks ago, the stories that did appear in English Canada were pretty much all sympathetic to her, questioning why the big, bad Conservatives won’t just let her be and respect the courts.
As I pointed out in a column last week, none of these people were standing up for another, Christian, religious minority when they fought not to show their faces, via photographs on their drivers licenses. The arguments from both sides were similar, and the Hutterites won twice at lower court and then lost at the Supreme Court. No lectures on a mean bigoted government back then. No sympathetic national stories on the plight of Wilson Colony.
In Quebec, the story is much different. Media in French Canada are treating this as a real story and at least one political party is feeling the wrath of voters. The NDP has dropped several points in poll after poll in Quebec over their support of wearing the niqab to citizenship ceremonies.
To the NDP, and Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, this is about multiculturalism and individual rights.
To the rest of Canada, this is about changing centuries of tradition in favour of a foreign practice that treats women as second-class citizens.
Let’s deal with the false individual rights claim first.
Many dispute the idea that the niqab is a religious requirement rather than a foreign, Saudi -promoted cultural practice. There is no mention of the niqab – or burka – in the Quran. There is no mandate for Muslim women to wear it.
But let’s for the sake of argument grant that they sincerely believe it is. Does the requirement to show their face unjustly impair their rights?
Muslim women around the world, whether in Canada or in Islamic countries, already face restrictions on where face coverings can be worn. There are times, including boarding airplanes, getting driver's licenses or even attending the Hajj pilgrimage, where Muslim women must remove their veils.
To claim that veils can be removed at all of these times but not for a citizenship ceremony is beyond ridiculous.
“Well then, just let them remove it in front of another woman,” we are told.
In a word, no.
If we are a society that treats men and women as equal, why would we accept that members of one religious group will only interact with government officials of one sex and not the other? This goes against Canadian values.
There are certain Christian and Jewish sects that segregate men and women to a degree. Would we allow men from those groups to refuse to deal with a women judge whether at a citizenship ceremony or in court? Of course not -- and we should not allow the reverse here.
Multiculturalism is supposed to be about celebrating diversity in Canada, about allowing people to keep the cultures of the lands they came from when they come to Canada. It is not supposed to be about changing Canada into the land they came from.
Ms Ishaq, like countless immigrants before her, came to Canada for what this country has to offer. She left Pakistan for a reason.
Her goal upon arrival should not be to turn Mississauga into Lahore.
Canada is an open society and part of that openness, beyond welcoming immigrants, is that we see each other’s faces.
I don’t like seeing the niqab in the street – which in Ottawa is easy to do – but I won’t call for an outright ban on it . If you want to dress that way, knock yourself out. But when taking oaths, swearing testimony, serving the public or being served by it, then it is perfectly reasonable that Canadians expect to see the face of the person we are interacting with.
Despite the claims, the inferences of those in the media – or politicians with the NDP or Liberals – the majority of Canadians, the 78% who want faces uncovered at citizenship ceremonies, are not racist.
They simply want to see Canadian values upheld, and that includes showing your face.
READ Brian Lilley's book CBC Exposed -- it's been called "the political book of the year.”
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Judges say Muslim women can wear burqas while pledging Canadian citizenship.
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