Muslim women will no longer be able to cover their faces as they take Canadian citizenship after the country’s immigration minister announced a ban on anyone wearing the niqab – the face veil – or burqa – full body and face covering – while taking the oath of citizenship.
He said that he had received complaints from citizenship judges who had claimed that it was difficult to ensure that individuals whose faces were covered were actually reciting the oath.
“They told me last month that it’s a fairly common problem. Every week, in every region of the country, we’re dealing with situations where applicants arrive with a veil on,” said Jason Kenney, the minister of citizenship and immigration. “Frankly, I found it bizarre that the rules allowed people to take the oath with a veil on.”
He added that the move was also not simply a practical measure, saying: “It is a matter of deep principle that goes to the heart of our identity and our values of openness and equality.”
Kenney said the oath of citizenship has to be done freely and openly and under equal conditions.
The announcement was made in the French-speaking province of Quebec, where a law passed last year banned the wearing of any face cover while applying for government services in the province…
Canada’s supreme court last week also heard arguments in a case where a Muslim woman wants to testify while wearing a niqab, pitting her right of religious freedom against her alleged rapist’s right to face his accuser in the trial.
I admit to occasional episodes of frustration with both of the sides that form up to battle over questions like this one.
The simplest and most democratic way I’ve come to political decisions on the question – is that civil law, the practices decided necessary by common law of the land, take precedence over religious custom. Or any other custom, for that matter, that lies outside the boundaries of law accepted as binding upon the whole country.