Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has announced that, beginning immediately, veiled Muslim women will have to remove their facial veils when they take their citizenship oath, to make sure the oath can be heard. He's right that the oath needs to be taken, and heard to be taken. But then, anyone who has been to a citizenship ceremony lately knows that many oath-takers can't be heard, and that the whole effort is more like a symbolic court or show-court than an actual one.
At some ceremonies, everyone present (including current citizens) is invited to step forward and recite the oath with the newcomers, en masse. Who can be sure who is saying what?
In practice, citizenship ceremonies are treated less as a solemn oath-taking of individuals and more as a celebration of diversity, of multiculturalism, of the world's different peoples coming together as Canadians.
But Mr. Kenney is right. The oath of citizenship – an oath to the Queen and her successors, and to obey the laws of Canada, and fulfill the duties of being a citizen – should be taken seriously. Does the face need to be bare to demonstrate seriousness? Mr. Kenney says that to be seen, and not to be covered, is in keeping with Canadian values. True, but protection of religious expression, as long as it causes no direct harm to the vulnerable, is also a Canadian value.
It's hard to understand why the Crown would insist on depriving an individual of her religious garb as a condition of taking an oath. The honour of the Crown rests in part on the protection of minorities.
But Canada has the right to insist on confirming the identity of the oath-taker (they need to know who is under the veil), and in insisting that the oath be taken, audibly. Are there ways to do so while also accommodating religious belief? Surely a country built on compromise, and whose citizenship ceremonies celebrate diversity, can find a way.
As a start, the ceremonies deserve to be treated with gravitas, and not as such a show-court heralding multiculturalism. They should be about individuals taking an extremely important oath to the Crown, and through the Crown to their new country.