In 2003, citing security concerns, new government regulations were brought in regarding photo identification.
The move changed an existing law that did not require everyone to have photo ID.
A small religious minority group asked for an exemption, they claimed having their picture taken and the ID card created would violate their strongly held religious beliefs and be a violation of their Charter right to freedom of religion.
The government denied the request, so the religious minority group challenged the new rule in court. They won, then they won on appeal.
That didn’t matter to the government. They had what they believed were valid security reasons to impose this new rule, so they appealed to the Supreme Court and won.
The court said the new regulations did violate the religious freedom guarantee of the Charter -- but that it was a minimal impairment of the right.
That ruling came down in 2009. Did you hear much about it?
From 2003 to 2009, did you hear progressive politicians tripping over themselves to stand up for this threatened religious minority?
Did you hear media commentators call those that wanted to impose this restriction on the religious minority "bigots"?
No, of course you didn’t. Because the small religious minority group were Christians, members of a sect called the Hutterite Brethren. The government in question was the Alberta government, concerned about the security of their driver’s licence system and identity theft in a post-9/11 world.
I bring this up in the context of the niqab debate because I think Alberta V. Hutterian Brethern of Wilson Colony stands as an indication that the Supreme Court has already ruled on this.
There is a valid security concern about who is taking the oath of citizenship. In Canada, we have always taken oaths and sworn testimony with faces uncovered. There were no rules because none were needed. It was expected and it was how we operated.
Now some Muslim women want to take the oath with their faces covered. They claim not to do so is a violation of their religious freedom.
Some argue that the niqab and the more extreme burka are not Islamic, but let’s grant for the sake of argument that they are. Is it a heavy burden for these women to show their face while swearing an oath? No, it happens for a few moments, that is all. The Hutterite Brethren have to have a permanent photo, a constant violation of their faith, or give up driving. The court still called it a minimal impairment.
I could also point out that any of these women taking part in the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca that has just wrapped up, would not be allowed to do so with their faces covered.
But let’s stay with Canadian examples.
Supporters, often liberals and feminists, love to point out that this shouldn’t matter because there are really only a few women that dress like this. First off, those people should get out of their leafy, less than diverse enclaves more often; this is a growing trend.
Secondly, that same argument could have been made and likely was made for the Hutterite Brethren. It didn’t hold.
Now truth be told, despite what politicians like Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau will tell you, this case being appealed on the niqab was not decided on Charter grounds; it was all about judicial discretion.
That is an easy change to the law and that law should be changed.
Once that happens, though, there will be a Charter challenge and the arguments we hear now will come out again.
I will leave you with this though.
If you did not stick up for the Hutterites, or won’t call for their exemption from the driver’s license law now, then you really shouldn’t call anyone opposed to the niqab a bigot.
Judges say Muslim women can wear burqas while pledging Canadian citizenship.
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