Que­bec NDP hope­ful backs down on niqab stance

SundayXtra - - VOTE CANADA - By Me­lanie Mar­quis

LAC-MÉ­GAN­TIC, Que. — A Que­bec NDP can­di­date who pro­posed re­open­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion to re­visit free­dom of re­li­gion in or­der to rule on the ques­tion of niqabs now says his com­ments were “con­tra­dic­tory.”

In a writ­ten state­ment is­sued Satur­day, Mé­gan­tic-L’Érable can­di­date Jean-François Delisle said his re­marks were “ill-con­sid­ered and con­tra­dic­tory and do not re­flect my pri­or­i­ties or those of the party.”

In a Fri­day in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press, Delisle said he was “per­son­ally” op­posed to the wear­ing of niqabs while swear­ing the oath of cit­i­zen­ship, a topic that has re­cently resur­faced dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign, and has been es­pe­cially prob­lem­atic for the NDP.

Dur­ing the ex­change, Delisle went as far as to sug­gest the NDP — which hopes to ob­tain a man­date to ne­go­ti­ate with the prov­inces to re­open the Con­sti­tu­tion to abol­ish the Se­nate — could kill two birds with one stone by tak­ing the op­por­tu­nity to solve the niqab de­bate by con­sti­tu­tional means.

“(NDP Leader) Thomas Mul­cair is ready to open the Con­sti­tu­tion for the Se­nate, so why wouldn’t he be ready to open it up on this is­sue?” he asked, go­ing on to sug­gest Canada should up­date its un­der­stand­ing of free­dom of re­li­gion.

“The free­dom of re­li­gion that was, in the 1980s — the one that was put in place (in the Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms) by the leg­is­la­tors of the day — is not nec­es­sar­ily the same free­dom of re­li­gion we have to­day.”

He said rad­i­cal move­ments have be­come more com­mon­place and it would be a shame if these types of groups were granted greater free­dom than the ma­jor­ity.

The short state­ment Delisle is­sued Satur­day did not di­rectly ad­dress his per­sonal views, but rather tried to re­ori­ent the con­ver­sa­tion by stat­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion “was not one of our (the NDP’s) pri­or­i­ties for the cit­i­zens of Lac-Mé­gan­tic, who first and fore­most want a (rail) by­pass.”

Nev­er­the­less, Delisle may have opened a Pan­dora’s box with his pro­pos­als, which were jumped upon by par­ti­sans, can­di­dates and strate­gists from the other par­ties who know the sug­ges­tion of a con­sti­tu­tional quar­rel can be an ef­fec­tive threat dur­ing cam­paign time.

When it comes to the is­sue of niqabs dur­ing cit­i­zen­ship cer­e­monies, the NDP has been walk­ing on eggshells com­pared with their ri­vals, whose views are more es­tab­lished, and eas­ier to sum­ma­rize. The Con­ser­va­tives and the Bloc Québé­cois are against. The Lib­er­als are in favour.

The niqab ques­tion en­tered the cam­paign last week af­ter the Fed­eral Court of Ap­peal ruled a fed­eral min­is­te­rial di­rec­tive for­bid­ding Mus­lim women from wear­ing a niqab dur­ing cer­e­monies was in­valid.

One day later, Immigration Min­is­ter Chris Alexan­der an­nounced the gov­ern­ment would seek leave to ap­peal the rul­ing be­fore the Supreme Court. On Fri­day, the Con­ser­va­tives asked the courts to sus­pend the judg­ment while await­ing word from the high court.

The le­gal bat­tle has been fought by Zunera Ishaq, 29, of On­tario, who wants to be al­lowed to wear a niqab while swear­ing the oath of cit­i­zen­ship.

PA­TRICK DOYLE / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Zunera Ishaq wants to wear her niqab.

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