Federal parties ganged up Friday on Elections Canada and its decision to allow Muslim women to cast ballots with their faces covered by a niqab or a burka in coming by-elections.
"Common sense is being trumped by political correctness. It's the kind of thing that results in ordinary people just shaking their heads," said Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan, who is the minister responsible for the country's electoral laws.
"We call on all parties to form a united front and ask Elections Canada to reverse this decision," he said.
The Bloc blasted the rule as undemocratic, while the Liberal Party called on Elections Canada to reverse its stand.
The NDP, however, said it can live with the current rules on veils in the three ballots on Sept. 17, while agreeing that changes could come later.
Elections Canada said this week that current rules do not force women wearing niqabs or burkas to show their faces at the voting booth, as long as they show two government-issued IDs or have another voter vouch for their identity.
"There are several ways that electors can choose to prove their identity and residential address, some of which do not entail having to remove face coverings," the statement said.
A spokesman for Elections Canada later explained that all parties were informed in July of the policy on face coverings.
A similar controversy erupted in Quebec earlier this year, and provincial rules were eventually clarified to state that all voters had to uncover their faces. Quebec Premier Jean Charest Friday said that the same rules should apply in the coming federal by-elections in Quebec.
"Every person who comes out to exercise their vote must be clearly identified, and in my eyes it's as simple as that," he said.
Mohamed Elmasry of the Canadian Islamic Congress said that Muslims aren't asking to be allowed to vote with their faces covered, and that niqabs are a rarity. He said veiled women would have no problem removing a niqab before a female voting official for identification purposes.
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion agreed with that mechanism.
"We do believe that when they are casting a vote in elections, Canadian citizens have a responsibility to fully reveal their identities. For this reason, we would ask Elections Canada to reconsider its decision, and to require veiled women to unveil their faces to confirm their identities," he said.
The Bloc was the first party to jump on the issue, issuing a harsh criticism of Elections Canada Friday morning.
"Casting a ballot is an act that must be accomplished by citizens with their face uncovered, especially since voters must identify themselves before they vote. It is unacceptable to allow voting with a covered face in our democratic society," Bloc MP and lead organizer Mario Laframboise wrote in a letter to Elections Canada.
Thomas Mulcair, who is the NDP candidate in the coming by-election in Outremont, said that in future elections, covered women could be asked to show their face to another woman in a specially designed area.
"As we go over what happened in the by-elections, we'll have real numbers, see if there is a problem or not. If it's necessary to assuage concerns on another level, because it is controversial, maybe we can look at these other options," Mr. Mulcair said.
With a report from Canadian Press