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tabatha southey

'We do not allow people to cover their faces during citizenship ceremonies. Why would Canadians, contrary to our own values, embrace a practice at that time that is not transparent, that is not open and, frankly, is rooted in a culture that is anti-women?" asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and I wonder if this question is keeping him up at night.

I worry he wakes at 2 a.m., paces the hall, gets himself a sandwich, comes back to bed.

"Laureen," he says, "why would Canadians …?"

And Laureen sighs, wondering if he has left the cheese out, as he tends to do. She pulls the covers over her head, then, concerned this will freak her husband out again, she pulls them back off and says, "Just try to get some sleep, Prime Minister Harper …" knowing addressing him as such will soothe him.

Certainly she knows there'll be crumbs again, and so, for everyone's sake, I'm going to answer this pressing question for the man.

First of all, Prime Minister, most Canadians realize that the identity of those being sworn in at these citizenship ceremonies is established before the ceremony begins. Consequently a lot of Canadians aren't worried that in swearing in the tiny proportion of women who choose to wear the veil we're going to swear in hordes of imposters.

Although, to be fair, those would be the world's stupidest imposters. The citizenship paperwork is made out to the person being granted citizenship. It's not as though whatever pledger turns up that day gets an irrevocable "You're a Canadian" microchip put in her arm. So there would be no gain in the imposter's ruse.

Now, in opera, of course, people do sometimes dress up as other people and fool everyone, and lives are changed forever. I've seen operas where some guy will go through an entire wedding service and two arias before noticing, once her veil is removed, that the bride is actually someone's manservant.

This is the kind of dubious plot turn that drives some people crazy about opera (not me; I love this stuff) but I can see how a delicate soul governing a country as vast and majestic as our own might worry about creeping, invasive operatic tropes. Why, if they were to take hold, they would make his job more fraught and about 25 minutes longer than it really needs to be.

Is that your concern, Mr. Harper – operatic tropes in Canadian affairs? Is this fear something around which you're forming policy? Are you operating under the assumption that all those missing aboriginal women are just asleep in a ring of fire somewhere, awaiting a hero who has never learned fear? Do you believe that, if you just crack down on magic potions of forgetfulness, then everything will work out fine for them – and, thus, you feel free to focus on protecting women from picking the wrong outfit?

Is this your hidden talent, Prime Minister? Because if it is, you should do something with that. I wrote for a fashion magazine for 12 years and I still have questions regarding hosiery and open-toe shoes. Come on, Prime Minister, make yourself useful – there just seems to be something socks-with-sandals-y about that look, and yet I feel that sometimes the dress needs hose. You should start a blog: Almost-

In short, sir, anyone who would put on a veil and pretend to be someone else for a citizenship ceremony would have to be an actual bureaucracy fetishist. There would clearly be no gain in such an action – I imagine, if there are any of those odd ducks out there, they mostly just pretend they've misplaced their driver's licence. A lot.

"Yeah, I lost it again," they say, slyly. "On the subway. Are you going to need to see ID with my address? Oh, yeah, you are. Are you going to have to take my picture? I think you're going to have to take my picture."

When not in actual government offices, these people just call a special 1-900-phone line and breathe heavily while they listen to a voice say, "You're going to have to take a number. You're going to have to take a number …"

So, to answer your question, Prime Minister: Since there's clearly no practical reason for not allowing the wearing of a veil, perhaps many Canadians, while not necessarily "embracing" the practice of attending a citizenship ceremony with their faces covered (we're not an overly effusive people), are just okay with it.

It's possible that a lot of Canadians consider it unseemly to demand that one tiny subset of soon-to-be-Canadians suffer something they may perceive as humiliation before we grant them citizenship. Maybe we're uncomfortable with the notion that they must perform some ritual of supplication to prove to us how much they want to be here.

Perhaps some of us feel that what debases this solemn yet joyous occasion, what is "contrary to our own values" isn't a strip of fabric – it's a government turning our citizenship ceremony into a hazing ritual.

Ah, but the Prime Minister says, this no-veil thing isn't about security; it's a rejection of something that "is rooted in a culture that is anti-women." This kind of predatory chivalry is familiar to most women. Long after the battle plans are drawn up, the anticipated spoils (in this case, votes and campaign-contribution plunder) are divided, we women will be told, when questions are asked, that the war is about us.

I say, your declaration is a slippery slope, Mr. Harper: If women didn't wear clothes that were "rooted in a culture that is anti-women," we'd be naked. You can argue that the veil isn't a choice, that Muslim women wear the niqab only because of cultural pressure and family. These are the only reasons I wear clothes in August.

You can also say it's not actually required by their faith – that it's cultural. Well, then, clearly it's an equally valid freedom-of-expression affair.

Look, I'm an atheist – all religious expression is cultural to me. It's no business of mine if a person interprets the texts of her faith to mean she is required to wear a veil, a wimple, or crotchless panties. I'm not going to stand around saying anything less than triplicate stone tablets delivered in person from her deity invalidates her choice.

You can say you're just helping the poor ladies out – that, all things being equal, you just know women would not choose to wear the veil. I'm not sure, but I'd love to find out. I say that, if this is truly your primary concern, let's settle this thing.

Let's work to ensure that women have all the choice and freedom in the world – both economic and otherwise. Let's do that, and then see what it is they opt to wear. This will be fun. We could do this thing like a giant bar bet. I'm feeling reckless – I'll take corduroy culottes and turtlenecks at 900,000 to 1.