The Conservative campaign, continuing its shift toward a focus on religion and identity, promised to establish an RCMP tip line for reports of "barbaric cultural practices," fuelling accusations of fear mongering from opposition politicians and prominent Muslims.
The pledge on Friday, intended to help enforce a law passed earlier this year, comes as the Conservatives have doubled down on banning the niqab in citizenship ceremonies and vowed to strip convicted terrorists of their citizenship.
The renewed emphasis on "Canadian values" marks a shift for a party and a Prime Minster who spent the early part of the campaign touting their record as economic managers. The move has also coincided with a rise in Conservative poll numbers: The niqab issue in particular has been credited with buoying the Tories and eroding NDP support.
Chris Alexander, the Conservative immigration minister who has faced flak for his handling of the Syrian refugee crisis, held a news conference Friday to remind the electorate of the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, and to promise even more government resources if re-elected, including a proposed RCMP tip line specifically for the law, which came into effect in June.
"We need to stand up for our values," Mr. Alexander said. "We need to do that in citizenship ceremonies. We need to do that to protect women and girls from forced marriage and other barbaric practices."
The announcement came on the day of the last French-language leaders' debate, expected to have a big impact in Quebec, where disputes around religious accommodation have been especially heated.
According to a poll commissioned by the Privy Council, 93 per cent of Quebeckers backed the Conservative position on the niqab, along with 82 per cent of all Canadians. The courts have repeatedly voided the government's ban on the niqab at citizenship ceremonies. The face covering is worn by a tiny minority of extremely conservative Muslim women.
NDP candidate Paul Dewar, the party's foreign affairs critic, called Mr. Alexander's revival of the barbaric cultural practices theme "just another example of Stephen Harper's efforts to inflame tensions and divide Canadians for partisan gain."
"This kind of irresponsible dog-whistle politics has no place in Canada," Mr. Dewar said in an e-mail.
The NDP voted against the bill in the House of Commons last year, while the Liberals supported it with the proviso that the name might be offensive to some immigrant groups. The law targets "honour killings," polygamy and child marriage, practices sometimes associated in the public mind with Islam.
Natasha Bakht, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and a Muslim, called the act gratuitous because the practices it focuses on are already illegal in Canada.
"It strikes me that it's really just another way for the Conservative government to be targeting Muslim communities," she said. "Obviously that's what they're doing with the niqab debate."
The Quebec legislature was compelled to issue a unanimous denunciation of Islamophobia on Thursday as anti-Muslim rhetoric reached a fever pitch in the province, especially online.
A pair of teens tore the head scarf from a pregnant woman in Montreal this week, causing her to fall on the ground. The National Council of Canadian Muslims said Friday the assault on the Montreal woman should be investigated as a hate crime.
With a report from The Canadian Press