#DressCodePM: A Lawyer’s Perspective on Niqab
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of The Link Canada publication.
After having met all other citizenship requirements, Zunera Ishaq postponed her citizenship oath ceremony last year in order to challenge a 2012 Conservative government policy which required her to remove her niqab while reciting the oath of citizenship or risk not being given citizenship at all.
The policy had nothing to do with identity or security, since Ms. Ishaq would be privately identified before she was even allowed to enter the ceremony room. It was merely because the niqab “offended” the Conservative government and, according to them, seemed to be out of line with “Canadian” values.
The Federal Court ultimately decided that the policy was illegal. The government is now appealing that ruling.
As part of the rhetoric surrounding the ban when it was first introduced, Minister Kenny stated that the ban was acceptable, since it was not a true requirement of Islam. Such statements must be met with strong opposition. The government has absolutely no place in dictating to anyone what their religion does and does not require. Minister Kenny is certainly no authority on the matter!
The Supreme Court has already made that clear when they held that each Canadian must work out their religious obligations for themselves. One’s relationship with God is a deeply personal one and the government cannot intrude in that relationship. No Canadian – irrespective of faith — needs governmental approval to practice religion in the manner of their choice, so long as they are not harming another.
We must remember that an attack on even the most marginal of practices is still an attack on the freedom of religion at large.
This particular attack is even more dangerous when we consider that the policy in question appears to be rooted in a false desire to “save” Muslim women from oppression. Statements from the Conservatives have stated that the “culture” which has spawned the niqab is “tribal” and “anti-women.” Such statements smack of condescension: why does the government believe that Ms. Ishaq – a university-educated woman who insists that she decided to wear the niqab on her own – cannot be trusted to make her own decision regarding what she wears? Why is her voice less important to the government then their own prejudice of who she is? Also, what do these statements say about the Harper government’s view of Muslims as a whole?
Certainly, when we ground these statements among a backdrop of other statements of late by the Government, including the insistence on speaking only in terms of “jihadi” terrorism, and statements that extremism in Canada is being taught in mosques — the stance of the government regarding niqab appears to be part of a broader attack on the Muslim population at large.
We must question this stance, and the government’s treatment of Ms. Ishaq, with rigour or risk further invasions into our religious freedoms. Minority rights only exist so long as we insist that they be protected. Ms. Ishaq understands this and deserves our respect and support for taking the position that she has.
— Tabatha Southey (@TabathaSouthey) March 11, 2015
— Andrew Tumilty (@AndrewTumilty) March 11, 2015
— Sarah M (@Metamorphocity) March 11, 2015