“Every week, in every region of Canada, we’re dealing with situations where applicants arrive with a veil on,” the Immigration Minister elaborated. “Frankly, I found it bizarre that the rules allowed people to take the oath with a veil.”
Muslim women in Canada do have the right at airports to choose to show their face only to a female security screener, and they are allowed to vote in elections with their face covered. But Kenney views induction into citizenship as something quite different. “We cannot have two classes of citizenship ceremonies,” he said. “Canadian citizenship is not just about the right to carry a passport and to vote.”
The minister further commented that he believed Muslim women are not always religiously required to cover their face in public with a veil. “When they do the hajj to Mecca as part of their Koranic obligation of pilgrimage to the holy sites,” he noted, “they are required to show their face.”
This is not the first time that the issue of face coverings in official settings has come under public discussion in Canada. Two weeks ago, the country’s Supreme Court heard the case of a Muslim victim of sexual assault who requested to testify against her alleged assailants while veiled in a niqab. Critics have expressed concern that forcing female Muslims to display their faces while on a witness stand would prevent people from reporting crimes in the future.
Quebec may soon impose a ban on veils at government workplaces, as well as in schools, nurseries and hospitals. It is also reviewing legislation that would obligate people to show their face in government-funded institutions or when attempting to access public services.
The Canadian government’s concerns over Islamic face coverings may well be a reaction to the type of incident that occurred several years ago in England, when a man who was being sought by authorities on terrorism charges disguised himself as a burka-wearing Muslim woman and escaped capture by surveillance officers. In general, Islamic extremists – including suicide bombers fighting British and U.S. troops in Iraq, are known to have dressed in burkas to evade capture or to launch attacks.
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