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Politics Polling data on niqabs shows Quebecers overwhelmingly support a government ban

Zunera Ishaq talks to reporters outside the Federal Court of Appeal after her case was heard on whether she can wear a niqab while taking her citizenship oath

PATRICK DOYLE/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Results of a taxpayer-funded poll that suggest there is wide support for the Conservative position on banning veils during citizenship ceremonies were publicly released Thursday ahead of a federal election debate where the niqab is expected to be an issue.

It's the latest survey to suggest strong support for such a ban.

The Privy Council poll found Quebecers in particular were overwhelmingly supportive of the idea and that's the province where all five party leaders were to debate a variety of topics Thursday evening.

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Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe find common ground on the niqab ban in Quebec, with Duceppe prepared to invoke the constitutional notwithstanding clause to protect eventual legislation to ban the niqab. The other three leaders support the right of people to wear veils during the oath.

The polling results were released Thursday because of federal law requires all final reports of public opinion research paid for by taxpayers to be published within six months of data collection. The Privy Council — the bureaucracy serving the prime minister — conducted the survey in March.

While the niqab ban wound up being part of the election narrative due to a Federal Court of Appeal ruling last that week upheld a February Federal Court decision declaring the rule unlawful, it's flared up several times in recent months.

The Privy Council Office poll was conducted by Leger between March 12 and 25. The calls to 3,000 Canadians were made the week after the Conservatives filed their appeal of the Federal Court decision. Right before the survey began, Harper had called the niqab a product of a culture that is anti-woman, while Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau had given a major speech on liberty in politics.

Participants in the survey were asked "do you support or oppose a requirement that people show their face during Canadian citizenship ceremonies?"

Eighty-two per cent of those surveyed supported the requirement, 15 per cent opposed and four per cent didn't know or refused to answer. Support was highest in Quebec at 93 per cent and lowest in B.C. at 72 per cent. Reasons for support were varied, with the most common answer in the poll being the need for identification.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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In 12 focus groups conducted at the same time, participants gave more context to why they supported the ban.

"Participants felt that those who attended such ceremonies needed to be clearly identifiable and did not think it made sense that someone should be able to hide their face," said Leger's report.

"Other participants felt that this was first and foremost a value-based issue. To them, this was about new immigrants embracing Canadian values when being welcomed as new citizens. Removing their niqab or burka was the normal thing to do in Canada and therefore, the Canadian government was right in issuing this direction about showing their faces."

The survey also sheds some light on Canadians' point of view on other hot button issues likely to surface during the leaders debate on foreign policy on Monday.

The findings suggested half of those polled oppose Canada sending weapons or supplies to the Ukrainian government to assist in its struggle with Russia, though 50 per cent support sending Canadian soldiers to train Ukrainian forces.

The public appears more supportive of efforts to go after Russia, with 62 per cent backing increased sanctions.

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Less than half of respondents supported the idea that Canada "should do everything possible to prevent the threat of ISIL, even if it means putting Canadian troops on the ground in Iraq." Only 44 per cent agreed with that, with 30 per cent opposed.

Overall, 59 per cent of those polled supported the air strike campaign against ISIL and 37 per cent opposed it.

The entire study cost taxpayers $133,026.04

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