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Zunera Ishaq talks to reporters outside the Federal Court of Appeal in Ottawa last month.Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press

Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper and his strange political bedfellow, Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Québécois, have a golden opportunity to lower the temperature on the debate over the niqab in Canada. They should seize it, although their actions to date don't offer much hope that they will.

On Monday, the Federal Court of Appeal refused to suspend its ruling from last month that effectively allows Zunera Ishaq, a Muslim woman, to cover her face when she takes her oath of Canadian citizenship. The government appealed last month's decision to the Supreme Court, and it wanted its policy of banning niqabs at citizenship ceremonies to remain in place in the interim.

Monday's ruling means Ms. Ishaq can become a Canadian citizen in time to vote in the election on Oct. 19. It also means that Mr. Harper and Mr. Duceppe can leave this emotional and unworthy issue to the side and stick to real ones, such as Canada's stalled economy, health care and climate change.

If only. The Conservative and Bloc leaders have both exploited concerns about the niqab in particular, and Muslims in general, to advance their parties' interests. Mr. Harper has shown himself especially willing to up the ante. Last week, his party announced that a re-elected Conservative government would create a hotline to report "barbaric cultural practices" to police. On Tuesday, he said a new Tory government would consider prohibiting federal civil servants from wearing niqabs.

We will say it again: Many people believe that a veiled female face goes against Canadian values. In a free society, they are entitled to that belief. But Canada's religious freedoms mean a woman can wear a niqab in public.

Ms. Ishaq will remove her niqab, in private, in front of an official before taking her oath of citizenship. She has never once hidden her identity, as Mr. Harper and Mr. Duceppe falsely contend. On the contrary, she has bravely put herself forward to stand up for an important Canadian right. She will make a great citizen.

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