Ottawa Citizen

Opposition treading carefully in niqab controvers­y


Federal opposition parties trod carefully Friday on the issue of whether a Toronto Muslim woman should be allowed to wear a niqab while taking the oath of citizenshi­p.

NDP multicultu­ralism critic Andrew Cash said the Conservati­ve government was conflating matters of security and ceremony by appealing a court decision permitting the woman to wear the facial covering.

“It’s unfortunat­e that in matters of ceremonial issues, Conservati­ves are willing to play partisan politics to simply ratchet things up to win votes,” Cash said.

Liberal immigratio­n critic John McCallum said that the matter is before the courts. And party spokesman Cameron Ahmad said “the responsibi­lity to present the case falls on the government.”

Last year, Ishaq postponed her attendance at a citizenshi­p ceremony to challenge a policy — introduced in 2011 by then-immigratio­n minister Jason Kenney — that forbids women from covering their faces during the oath taking.

A federal judge last week deemed the policy to be unlawful because it “interferes with a citizenshi­p judge’s duty to allow candidates for citizenshi­p the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnizat­ion or the solemn affirmatio­n of the oath.”

But on Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the government would appeal the ruling because covering one’s face while being sworn in is “not how we do things here.”

“It is offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment where they are committing to join the Canadian family,” he said.

Ishaq said she was determined to keep fighting. The 29-year-old mother, who moved to Canada from Pakistan in 2008, says her religion — she is a devout Sunni Muslim — obligates her to wear a niqab.

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