“Your way isn’t my way, so your way is wrong.”
– A bigot
Zunera Ishaq made quite the splash when she delayed her participation in a Canadian citizenship ceremony so that she could launch a legal challenge that eventually overturned the ban on wearing a niqab while swearing the oath of citizenship. Canadians from coast to coast have babbled on about the pros and cons of a religious woman covering her face at a citizenship ceremony. When asked about the matter, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander said, “(Canadians) don’t want their co-citizens to be terrorists.” This left little doubt that Islamophobia is alive and well at the highest levels of Canadian government. What little doubt remained was extinguished on Friday when the federal Conservatives introduced a bill that would ban the niqab while swearing the oath of citizenship. Because Parliament rose that same day, the bill has no chance of passing. All in all, it was a stupid exercise.
In an interview with Minister of Multiculturalism Tim Uppla, the CBC’s Terry Milewski pointed out that the bill was misguided and pointless because the niqab ban had already been declared unconstitutional in Federal Court. Let’s just remember Milewski may not appear to be the smartest man in the world if he weren’t fortunate enough to spend so much time conversing with Canadian politicians. Uppal was unswayed. He said that far from restricting religious freedom, the federal government was merely introducing new rules that would limit certain peoples’ freedom to practice their religion. He insisted this is different because, well, it just is.
Pressed further, Uppal said that even though Muslim women should not be allowed to cover their faces during citizenship ceremonies, Sikhs should be allowed to wear turbans through airport security checks. He claimed that the citizenship oath is an issue of “sincerity,” apparently unaware that a turban (which could be used to conceal a weapon) might represent a security issue. Doesn’t his party care about security? Apparently not as much as it cares about wedge issues.
Yet, despite what Milewski says, there’s no way these guys are playing politics. If they were, they wouldn’t have treated this bill any differently than they did other government priorities. For example, remember what happened to senate reform? It never arrived. What about emissions regulations on the oil and gas sector which, after years of promised delivery, dear old Harper says he will not introduce? So, conclusively, the only evidence that this bill is politically motivated is the fact that the government introduced it at all.
Toward the end of his interview, Uppal’s rambling focused on the suggestion that the Canadian citizenship ceremony is an important event for those involved and that the oath is something citizen-initiates take very seriously. Unfortunately for him, far from confirming that his bill was appropriate, this suggestion reinforced that his government ought to prioritize the prospective citizen’s right to a meaningful ceremony on his or her own terms. If Canada is an open and inclusive country that values religious freedom, the citizenship oath should not be used to squash that freedom. It should not be a tool to limit Muslims’ rights to religious expression, even if our Prime Minister believes that their culture is “anti-women.” No- if the citizenship oath is indeed about the citizen, as Minister Uppal says it is- then this government doesn’t need to do anything. The bill is completely unnecessary.