Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper believes he has a winner in his government's policy of banning niqabs at citizenship ceremonies. He is so committed to it that Ottawa intends to appeal the latest court decision striking down the policy, and his party has vowed to adopt legislation outlawing religious face coverings at oath ceremonies if it is re-elected.
"I believe, and I think most Canadians believe, that it is offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment when they are committing to join the Canadian family," Mr. Harper said in February when the Federal Court first overturned the ban.
That case was brought by Zunera Ishaq, a Muslim woman who believes covering her head and face is integral to her religion. She hasn't been willing to take the citizenship oath because of the niqab ban put in place by the Tories in 2011, even though she has met every other hurdle to becoming Canadian.
The court ruled the ban was "unlawful" because it "interferes with a citizenship judge's duty to allow candidates for citizenship the greatest possible freedom" while taking the oath. A Federal Court of Appeal panel dismissed an appeal on Tuesday, setting up a showdown with the Supreme Court and the next Parliament.
Mr. Harper's dedication to this issue gets its legs from the distrust many people, Muslims included, feel toward the niqab. Some see it as discriminatory. But that legitimate disagreement has been transformed into a fear that veiled women are trying to "hide their identity," as Mr. Harper said.
That's a fallacy. Ms. Ishaq has never hidden her identity, and it is unfair to suggest otherwise. Muslim women who veil their faces are not bank robbers. They wear a niqab in order to follow the tenets of their beliefs, and in Canada they take it off where required, such as in court trials, for getting a driver's licence, or – as Ms. Ishaq is perfectly willing to do – to establish their identity in private before a citizenship ceremony.
We've said it before and the courts have agreed: A religious freedom is a religious freedom; it's not something you only practise when it's convenient to the broader society. Mr. Harper has never had a valid argument – legal, social or otherwise – for pursuing this issue so doggedly. It's puzzling why he is still at it.