Skip to main content

Zunera Ishaq talks to reporters outside the Federal Court of Appeal in Ottawa last month. Ishaq refused to take part in a citizenship ceremony because she would have to show her face while reciting the oath of citizenship.Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press

A Conservative government would look at banning public servants from wearing the niqab, Stephen Harper told the CBC on Tuesday.

"That's a matter we are going to examine," Harper said in an interview with Power and Politics host Rosemary Barton.

"Quebec, as you know, has legislation on this and we are looking at that legislation."

Harper said the "vast majority of Canadians" understand the Conservative government's decision to try to ban face coverings at citizenship ceremonies.

The policy, however, has been overturned in the courts.

The Federal Court of Canada found the rule unlawful in February and the Federal Court of Appeal recently upheld the decision.

On Monday, the appeal court also rejected the government's request to put the ruling on hold while Ottawa seeks a hearing at the Supreme Court of Canada.

The case was brought by Zunera Ishaq, who refused to take part in a ceremony because she would have to show her face while reciting the oath of citizenship.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau urged Harper to dial back the rhetoric.

"To the prime minister directly, stop this before someone truly gets hurt," Trudeau told the CBC radio's The House.

"We have had women attacked in the streets for wearing hijabs and niqabs. This is not Canada, and the kind of leadership and divisive politics that he's playing is dangerous and irresponsible."

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said Harper is trying to change the channel from his government's dismal economic record.

"I can tell you that in my 35 years of public service, I've never seen anybody like that (wearing a niqab)," Mulcair told reporters in Surrey, B.C. "What I can tell you I've seen is 400,000 good manufacturing jobs lost on Mr. Harper's watch."

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, meantime, urged Harper to dial back the rhetoric.

Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams also waded into the issue, asserting that Harper is deliberately stoking anti-Muslim sentiment for political ends.

"To try and use those kinds of tactics to pit people against people in the country so that they end up voting for his party and he gets re-elected, I just think that's quite shameful," Williams said.

The Conservative leader said Tuesday the niqab debate is not "by any means" the biggest issue of this campaign.

"The biggest issue of this campaign is the economy, but I think our position here is widely understood and supported," Harper said, adding that his party is reflecting public opinion on the matter.

"I think Canadians understand this very clearly," he said.

Interact with The Globe