The Conservatives promised Friday to establish an RCMP tip line where people can report "incidents of barbaric cultural practices in Canada," linking the pledge — as well as their position on niqabs at citizenship ceremonies — to Canadian values.
Stephen Harper had no public events ahead of Friday night's French-language debate, so cabinet ministers Chris Alexander and Jason Kenney stepped in to carry the Tory banner on the national stage. Alexander, along with Conservative Kellie Leitch, announced measures the Tories would take to combat "barbaric cultural practices." Kenney was in Halifax talking about shipbuilding, but was asked about swirling controversy over the government's Bill C-24.
Under that law, the government can remove the citizenship of dual citizens if they have been convicted of terrorist offences. The legislation has provoked outcry from the Liberals, NDP and others who say it creates two tiers of citizens.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has publicly mused whether a future Conservative government would introduce other crimes that would allow the state to remove one's citizenship.
But Kenney said firmly that will not happen, saying it will be limited to terrorists and traitors.
"We have no interest in tying citizenship to ordinary criminality, as bad as some of that criminality may be, the sanctions for that are found in the Criminal Code," he said.
"The reason we're focused on what we call violent acts of disloyalty against Canada like serious terrorist crimes, high treason or acts of war against Canada is because those are an expression of the renunciation of someone's citizenship."
In Ajax, Ont., Alexander announced the Conservatives would spend $12 million over four years to prevent child and forced marriages in war zones, and establish an RCMP tip line on "barbaric cultural practices in Canada" and RCMP integrated units to enforce their Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, which makes it illegal for anyone under 16 to get married and blocks anyone in a polygamist relationship from immigrating to Canada, among other measures.
Alexander said his party has stood up for Canadian values by protecting women and girls from forced marriages and in citizenship ceremonies. The Conservatives have been promoting their ban on wearing niqabs at citizenship ceremonies — it was overturned by the courts but they are fighting it — particularly in Quebec.
The view is supported by an overwhelming majority of Quebecers, but in the province's national assembly this week member Francoise David introduced a motion — unanimously passed — condemning hate speech and violence against all Quebecers, saying there has been a rise in Islamophobia.
"At a certain point, we started to have a debate about the niqab, a debate in which women are completely used as tools by the leader of the Conservative party in Ottawa," she said.
"And what did we start to see? A resurgence of intolerance, a resurgence of discourse that is at points xenophobic, racist, hateful, and against the Muslim community" and comments about Syrian refugees.
The Quebec motion came after a pair of teens tore the headscarf from a pregnant woman in Montreal this week, causing her to fall on the ground. Kenney dismissed any connection between the incident and the Conservatives' niqab stance.
"I think it's ridiculous to connect the public nature of the public citizenship oath in a court of law and criminality in our streets," he said.
Both the NDP and the Liberals have accused the Conservatives of using the niqab issue to play divisive politics and instill fear.
Alexander said the issue was not introduced into the election by the party, but Harper has been taking advantage of its resonance in Quebec, listing uncovered faces at citizenship ceremonies alongside good jobs and a comfortable retirement in a French-only ad as Quebec values.
It's a "very important" issue to all Canadians, Alexander said.
"Canadians are profoundly attached to their citizenship and its values," he said. "They want those joining the Canadian family to follow the rules that have existed for a long time."
Kenney also said he found it perplexing that former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien would welcome Russian President Vladimir Putin's offers of help to fight Islamic militants in Syria.
"Listen, Vladimir Putin is out to serve his own interests. He's not helping and he's not an ally," Kenney said.
"I think it's bizarre that the Liberal party is out there regarding Vladimir Putin as an ally. This is a man whose political opponents have been murdered and who has invaded neighbouring countries."