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Politics Remarks on women wearing niqabs were ‘inappropriate,’ Tory MP says

Larry Miller, Conservative MP for Bruce Grey-Owen Sound, is shown in Ottawa on June 6, 2012.

ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A Conservative MP has apologized after saying women who want to wear the face-covering niqab during citizenship ceremonies should "stay the hell where [they] came from."

Larry Miller, Member of Parliament for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, made the comments Monday during a call-in show on a local radio station.

"If you aren't willing to show your face in a ceremony where you're joining the best country in the world, then frankly … stay the hell where you came from," he said.

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"I think most Canadians feel the same. I may be saying it a little harshly, but it's the way I feel. I'm so sick and tired of people wanting to come here because they know it's a good country and then they want to change things before they even officially become a Canadian."

In a statement released Tuesday, Mr. Miller said some of his comments were "inappropriate."

"I stand by my view that anyone being sworn in as a new citizen of our country must uncover their face. However, I apologize for and retract my comments that went beyond this."

Carl Vallée, a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office, said Mr. Miller's comments went "beyond our clear position."

Mr. Miller's comments went further than Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who said last week that the niqab, a face-covering veil worn by a small minority of Muslim women in Canada, was "rooted in a culture that is anti-women."

Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said recent comments from the Conservative government were "seemingly designed to keep the electorate focused on identity politics in order to distract them from broader issues in an election year."

"Even with an apology, the damage has been done, and continues to be done, by elected officials who seem intent on debating an issue that has already been fully addressed in our courts and which does little to address the real concerns Canadians have about their day-to-day lives," Mr. Gardee said in a statement. "It further creates a climate in which Muslim women may be subjected to anti-Muslim sentiment and discrimination."

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The debate was sparked when Zunera Ishaq, a permanent resident in Canada who wears a niqab, challenged in court a Conservative policy that barred the wearing of the veil while reciting the oath during citizenship ceremonies. Ms. Ishaq has said she would take off the niqab in private to verify her identity with officials, but would not remove the face covering during the public ceremony.

A Federal Court judge sided with Ms. Ishaq last month and overturned the ban, which the federal government is appealing.

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