Quebec NDP hopeful backs down on niqab stance
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.
Zunera Ishaq wants to wear her niqab.