Skip to main content

A woman wearing a niqab protests Quebec’s Bill 94, which requires people remove the garment before receiving services.

Peter Mccabe/The Canadian Press

New Democrats are toning down the party's defence of the niqab after facing criticism in Quebec on the divisive topic.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has repeatedly condemned the Conservative government's efforts to ban the wearing of the face-covering veils at citizenship ceremonies.

But headlines in French-language media that say NDP is "in favour of the niqab" were not well received by all New Democrats, and provided fodder for the party's opponents in the province.

Story continues below advertisement

The niqab is a controversial subject in Quebec, where a promise from the separatist Parti Québécois to ban overt religious symbols among government workers was a major issue in the most recent provincial election.

One of the NDP's best known Quebec MPs, Alexandre Boulerice, gave media interviews this week to explain his "uneasiness" with the niqab.

"It seems to be a symbol of oppression, which is not something that pleases me," Mr. Boulerice told The Globe and Mail on Friday. "I think the niqab is at the junction of the limits of what is accepted by the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms] and what Canadian society is ready to accept."

He also questioned the ability of fully veiled bureaucrats to provide services to the public, stating Canada might need a country-wide consultation on religious symbols similar to one in Quebec in 2007-2008. However, he added that the Charter needs to be respected, and accused the Conservative government of "going overboard" on the issue.

The Liberal Party jumped on Mr. Boulerice's comments, arguing that on minority rights, the NDP says "one thing in Quebec, and something else in the rest of Canada."

New Democrat officials said the party's position has not changed: it will continue to support minority rights vigorously and defend the Charter, including the right of women to wear a niqab when swearing the oath of citizenship.

The party also renewed its assault on Prime Minister Stephen Harper for attempting to use the issue of the niqab to win support in Quebec. New Democrats explained that in much of the country, the debate is among three federalist parties, but that in Quebec, the separatist Bloc Québécois, a federal party, is scoring political points by criticizing the niqab.

Story continues below advertisement

"Stephen Harper is helping the separatists by giving them a lifeline, by fanning the flames of division on this issue," NDP principal secretary Karl Bélanger said in an interview.

In an attention-grabbing online ad last month, the Bloc asked: "Do you need to veil your face to vote for the NDP?"

"Given that we are defending a largely held view in Quebec and that we are defending the equality of men and women, I do think that this will help fuel an increase in Bloc support in Quebec," Bloc Leader Mario Beaulieu told the Canadian Press this week.

Mr. Harper announced during a stop in Victoriaville last month that his government will appeal a Federal Court ruling that would allow niqab-wearing women to take the oath of citizenship with their faces covered.

His Conservative Party is aiming to win the Bloc-held riding of Richmond-Arthabaska, where he was speaking at the time, and a handful of seats to the east in the Quebec City area that are in the hands of the NDP.

Mr. Harper said during Question Period on Wednesday that the niqab is "rooted in a culture that is anti-woman."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter