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'No exceptions' for veil at airports, Baird says

A still from a YouTube video taken at Trudeau airport in Montreal shows veiled women boarding an Air Canada flight for Heathrow.

1. Security trumps all. Transport Minister John Baird has to show picture identification when he boards planes. In fact, he told The Globe that a cabinet colleague was prohibited from boarding a plane because he didn't have the proper ID. (Mr. Baird refused to identify his colleague.)

The issue of airline security has erupted as a result of a YouTube video. The Transport Minister saw the video of two Muslim women, their faces covered, boarding a flight out of Montreal, for the first time last night on CTV news.

Even before he saw it, however, he had been informed of it. Which prompted him to order an investigation into airline and airport security measures since the video suggests the women were not asked to show their faces.

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"I think if there's people who think that, wow, this is too sensitive - that we've got to make exceptions - that is just a non-starter," he said Tuesday morning about the possible reasons why Air Canada officials, who were boarding the passengers, appear not to have asked the women to uncover their faces.

He says political correctness is not a valid reason for not asking someone to show their face. "It's one law for all, everyone is treated equally and this is not an invasive request to see someone's face. This is Canada. We're an open society. It's part of our Canadian values and principles."

The airport security issue has flared amid debates in France and in Quebec about wearing veils in public places. A poll last week showed a majority of Canadians wanted a burka ban. It was inspired by the new legislation in France aimed at banning veils worn by Muslim women.

And there is a bill in Quebec requiring Muslim women to show their faces in government buildings. It has the support of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Mr. Baird noted this morning that if faces are not checked against picture identification then anyone who is on a no-fly list "could simply cover their face and use someone else's name" to board a plane.

"It's so basic, it's so rudimentary. You know people say we've got to work out a system for this. No, there is no system to work out. It's very, very simple. If you want to get on a plane in Canada you've got to show your face."

For now, however, he wants to get all the facts from his officials. It's not clear from the video clip exactly what happened before or after the women went through the gate.

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"We saw the clip. It raises a serious issue. We'll look into it. We'll see what happened before; we'll see what happened after," he said.

"It's a good opportunity to underline the importance. Flying is a privilege and you have to show your face and there are no exceptions."

2. Leadership and heritage. Laureen Harper and Elizabeth May ran into each other recently at the Calgary Stampede, (a not-to-be-missed summer outing for politicians where wearing a cowboy hat is de rigueur), during which the Prime Minister's wife chastised the Green Party Leader for selling her Ottawa home to a developer who might tear it down.

"I said, 'I didn't'", Ms May recalled. "It was quite funny and she was very pleased to get the straight story."

The chance encounter, however, (Ms. May refers to it as a "lecture" by Mrs. Harper) spurred Ms. May to put pen to paper and write an op-ed piece for The Ottawa Citizen about her home and its new heritage status.

In her piece, she notes that her home, which isn't too far from the Prime Minister's official residence at 24 Sussex Drive, has received a heritage designation because its first owners. It was built in the early 1900s and although not a beautiful looking home, the red brick dwelling is supposedly a good example of Edwardian Classicism.

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Its first owner, Ms. May writes, is the reason for the heritage designation. It was home to Lawrence J. Burpee, who served as private secretary to three justice ministers and was the first secretary to the International Joint Commssision in 1912.

"I couldn't be happier that the house will be protected," wrote Ms. May, who moved bought the home when her daughter, now 19, was 2 years old. But she's selling it now so she can focus on her bid for a seat in Parliament representing a riding in British Columbia.

Meanwhile, Ms. May was making even more news this weekend with the signing of former Montreal Canadiens enforcer Georges Laraque as her deputy leader. It is an unlikely combination, but one she hopes will benefit the party in Quebec.

"I hope he can break through some voter disgust with politics and help us reverse the anti-voting trend, particularly among young people," Ms. May told The Globe on Tuesday morning, adding that she approached Mr. Laraque about the deputy leader role, which he is taking on as a volunteer.

Initially recruited to join the party last winter by Quebec member Sameer Muldeen, who serves in Ms. May's shadow cabinet for animal welfare issues, the hockey player became a political star quickly, appearing at a major fundraiser in Vancouver with playwright John Gray and writer William Deverell.

"The more I talked with him, the more impressed I was with his sincerity," Ms. May said.

As to her own fate as leader, she says: "Bring it on." Ms. May faces a possible challenge from Sylvie Lemieux, a retired army lieutenant-colonel.

"Sylvie is a great candidate for us and a strong individual," Ms. May said, arguing there is no official race yet.

She notes that a race would mean more media attention and as a result, new members. Costs are a factor against having a race right now, she adds, as is the fact that it distracts from a potential election.

Green Party members are voting now on changing the timing of leadership reviews from a fixed term to mandatory leadership reviews after every election. Ms. May is abstaining from the discussion.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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