In a nasty turn, it looks like the outcome of the federal election could be tilting in favour of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, thanks to his knack for preying on the ignorance and insecurities of some Canadians when it comes to Muslims. So much for Canada being a tolerant country that championed diversity.
The Conservatives have lately doubled down on efforts to ban the niqab – a face-covering worn by a tiny fraction of Muslim women that leaves not much more than the eyes exposed – from citizenship ceremonies.
No matter that it turns out that only two women have ever declined to participate in the swearing-in ceremony because they were unable to cover their faces. It’s incredible that an issue of such little real-world significance would end up outweighing, by a huge margin, any election-time discussion about, say, missing and murdered aboriginal women.
No matter that the courts have already ruled in favour of one of these women, finding that the government broke its own rules by denying her request to participate in the ceremony while veiled, and that future court decisions look sure to lean the same way, due to Constitutional protections of religious freedom.
No matter that the popular support for banning the niqab during citizenship ceremonies is founded, in part, upon a false premise – that there are legitimate concerns about identifying the women behind the veils. In truth, women who wear the niqab are already expected to remove the veil in private before an official before the ceremony.
No matter that it’s not the place of the government in a free, open society to tell women what items of clothing they should be allowed to wear, and that individual liberty and religious freedom are sometimes thought to be conservative values.
No matter that the government’s conclusion that the niqab is inherently oppressive to women raises the question, if we’re taking this objection seriously, of what other sexist religious beliefs – and let’s face them, there are plenty – should be banned by government edict.
Beyond the citizenship ceremony, Harper says he is mulling a niqab ban for federal civil servants, and anyone doing business with the government.
His government has also lately vowed to create a hotline for Canadians to call to snitch on any neighbours they suspect of committing “barbaric cultural practices” such as polygamy, forced child marriage and honour killings. To be clear, these acts are already illegal, and a hotline to report them already exists. It’s called 911.
And the Conservatives are pushing to strip the citizenship of convicted terrorists born outside the country. Like the rest of the package, this promise doesn’t name the Muslim faith by name, but the government has so far only singled out those inspired by a kooky version of Islam. Other convicted terrorists, aligned with the Air India bombing and the FLQ, have strangely flown under the radar.
No matter that the Conservatives say this is all about ensuring men and women are treated equally and protecting the country. In truth, it’s about shaming a small, vulnerable minority for electoral gain.
In the Yukon, with our tiny Muslim population, the closest thing to a niqab being seen are probably some of the balaclavas worn by winter sports enthusiasts to ward off frostbite. But here we have our own fear-based campaign, in which Conservative candidate Ryan Leef is warning that the Liberal plan to sign on to a global arms treaty is a sneaky conspiracy to bring back the long-gun registry.
No matter that the Liberals and NDP both insist they won’t bring back the gun registry. And no matter that the United Nations and any number of experts on the treaty are all clear that it certainly does not require a domestic gun registry. Rather than aiming to restrict the use of guns within countries, the purpose of the treaty is to halt the flow of such weapons to places like Syria. It could result in Canada tracking its import and exports of firearms, but it’s totally misleading for Leef to suggest this would affect end users, as the gun registry did.
Some paranoid gun-lovers in the United States once worried the treaty would lead to gun registration, and that this would invariably lead to confiscation. That led the U.S. to demand the exclusion of such requirements several as a condition to it participating in talks a few years ago. But in the Yukon, that ill-founded rumour continues to live on, thanks to our own Conservative MP.