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The Canadian government of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper showed new immigrants that Canadian and Western values are paramount in Canada on Monday when it banned face coverings for Muslim women at citizenship swearing-in ceremonies. The prohibition occurred after the country’s immigration minister, Jason Kenney, had received complaints from citizenship judges and other ceremony participants that it is “hard to tell whether veiled individuals are actually reciting the oath.
“Allowing a group to hide their faces while they are becoming members of our community is counter to Canada’s commitment to openness, equality and social cohesion,” Kenney stated.
The wearing of the Muslim face-veil was becoming a growing problem at citizenship ceremonies. Government officials across the country were being confronted “every week” with veil-wearing women. This went against the grain of the government’s belief that taking the citizenship oath, according to Kenney, was “a public declaration that you are joining the Canadian family and it must be taken freely and openly.” In fact, Kenney called it “frankly bizarre” that regulations had allowed for face coverings at the ceremonies in the first place.
“We cannot have two classes of citizenship ceremonies,” the immigration minister maintained. “Canadian citizenship is not just about the right to carry a passport and to vote.”
Canada is already wrestling with the veil-wearing issue in its Supreme Court, the country’s highest judicial body. An unidentified Muslim woman, a sexual assault victim, is currently seeking the right to wear a veil when she testifies at the trial of her two accused. The outcome of this trial has far-reaching implications for the Canadian legal system as a finding in her favour could introduce a special status or two-tier system that Keeny feared for trial participants: Muslim women who would be allowed conceal their faces and non-Muslim women who wouldn’t.
But as Barbara Kay, a columnist for the National Post, a Canadian national newspaper, points out, this case is not really about religion. The woman, for example, had not worn a veil when she had her photo taken for her driver’s license. Which indicates the case really concerns the unfortunate victim’s “unwillingness to face her abusers without the psychological protection of the veil.”
Besides, as Kay states, the veil is not a religious “demand” in Islam. She cites the grand Shiekh of al-Azhar University in Egypt, Islam’s most prestigious university, who, in 2009, “scolded a Cairo high school girl for wearing a face-veil: ‘The niqab is tradition,” he said, ‘It has no connection to religion.’ ”
After Monday’s announcement, Muslim women who show up with a covered face at citizenship ceremonies will be warned twice to uncover. If they refuse to do so, they will not be allowed to take the oath and their status in Canada will remain as “permanent resident,” which does not give them the right to vote or hold certain jobs. That, however, may be a good thing from Canadian society’s point of view. Veil-wearing women are usually associated with radical Islamic religious beliefs that include the destruction of liberal democracies and their replacement with theocracies based on sharia law.
This is the view in France, which treats veiled Muslim women much more strictly than Canada. A French judicial body, for example, denied citizenship outright in 2008 to a burqa-wearing Moroccan woman for “insufficient integration.” In 2010, France’s legislative bodies passed a law against covering one’s face in public spaces, which included the Muslim veil and burqa. The law went into effect last April, and the first two Muslim women were fined by a French police court for non-compliance in September.
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