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Editorials The niqab is a distraction. Voters should focus on real issues

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper speaks at a rally during a campaign stop in Quebec City on Wednesday.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

This test of endurance known as the 2015 election campaign has presented Canadians with plenty of serious issues to consider. The economy, for starters. How does a country that benefited from an oil boom maintain jobs and growth when the price of crude oil plummets for an extended period?

There are also big fiscal choices: Does Canada need budgets in surplus, or is it wiser to run small deficits and spend more on infrastructure now, when interest rates are at record lows?

How about the environment? Should Ottawa have a national plan to substantially reduce carbon emissions, or should it leave the field largely to the provinces?

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Or foreign policy: Should Canada be bombing the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, or should we be focusing on training local troops and delivering humanitarian aid? And what is the right number of Syrian refugees to accept?

For the first seven weeks of the 11-week campaign, voters and candidates mostly focused on these and other pertinent issues. But with the Oct. 19 vote now just weeks away, this election is at risk of being overtaken by a single emotional issue that has no tangible bearing on the lives and well-being of Canadians. We're talking about the niqab.

The Conservative Party and its leader Stephen Harper want the niqab banned at citizenship ceremonies. The Bloc Québécois, desperate for votes, demand the same. Both parties falsely accuse Muslim women who wear the face coverings of "hiding their identities." Mr. Harper's focus on this issue has begun to open up a little daylight between his party and the Liberals and New Democrats, and he's pushing it harder than ever.

Many 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. This is a non-issue that has no impact whatsoever on the vast majority of the population, yet it risks turning into a deciding factor in the election.

If you support the ban, ask yourself: Have you ever been to a citizenship ceremony? Do you actively follow who is being sworn in as Canadian citizens every week? Had you ever given this a moment's thought before the Tories and the BQ made it an issue?

Of course not. The niqab is a distraction – a culture war fabricated to take voters' minds off the real and complex issues in this election. Don't fall for it. Wearing a veil is one thing – wearing a blindfold is another altogether.

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