An Attack on Canadian Values

larryBy Larry Murray
Published: Oct 21, 2015


I HAVE a question for Zunera Ishaq, the Pakistani woman who has refused to show her face at the citizenship ceremony: Will you refuse to show your face in your passport photos too? If not, will you demand that a special arrangement be made at the immigration counters? And what about your driving licence? Stopped by a male cop, will you demand to be questioned by a female cop only to prove that indeed it’s you who are driving the car? Well, what about all the health card forms and many other government documents on which all of us happily bare our faces because it’s common sense and well, the law calls for it.
These may sound trivial everyday matters but they point to a larger question of how much the state and its law can bend to accommodate one individual’s whims. Note that I say whims, not religious beliefs for there is no consensus among Islamic scholars on whether the niqab has a theological basis in Quran, the Islamic holy book. Religious freedom is cornerstone of Canadian democracy. Yet, everything I read indicates the niqab is not a religious but rather a cultural tradition, sometimes nothing more than an acceptance of a family or husband’s requirement. Over time, this regressive practice may have turned into a cultural habit and slowly morphed for some into a religious obligation. And yet, there are several Islamic scholars who say there is nothing in the Quran that calls for Muslim women to wear the niqab. 
If the niqab is any indication, we may be looking at decades of court challenges ahead unless the Canadian Government says, “No, this is not the way we do it in Canada.” We drive on the right side of the road. Woman can vote and work wherever they wish and people can wear whatever suits them – except in our Citizenship Court. One only has to attend such a ceremony and see the well-dressed, smiling, and yes, unveiled people taking the Oath of Citizenship, fully conscious that they are joining a new family and that invariably means leaving behind some of the old ideas and values of the old family.
I grew up in a small northern Ontario city just after the Second World War and I recall our town became a haven for newcomers who added to the wonderful mosaic of our community. There were Polish and Russians, Austrians and Swiss immigrants and even the former enemy felt welcomed. The key real estate company was German, the Volkswagen dealership was German, the delicatessen and bakeshops were Italian and German and we all knew they had come to find a new life and escaped from the totalitarian traditions of their former lives. Our own town, Squamish, demonstrates the deeply tolerant society we strive for, from the First Nations to Sikhs to the very recent newcomers. We live in an open democracy and we all know that Canada has rich historical tradition of welcoming new immigrants. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that everyone who comes here follows the law because Canada has done a reasonably good job of making sensible laws, built as they are on reason and common values.
When Zunera Ishaq demands to wear the niqab, Canadians feel hurt because it’s an attack on the Canadian values of equality and freedom of women that are now firmly rooted in our country’s fabric. Respect for women, after all, is a hallmark of our society and we have come a long way in ensuring that woman have equal rights. It’s once again these values that have inspired us to fight oppression and it’s what has led us to fight ISIS at this very moment.
It’s not racist or Islamophobic to say we shouldn’t allow the niqab during something as important as a citizenship ceremony. Canadians thrive on freedom and we respect individual rights but not when they infringe on common law, and in this case, even common sense.


  1. Tree hugger says:

    Good points on the license and passport photos!Being from an immigrant family myself,we were only too happy to put aside our old ways and adapt to the new customs of our adopted country.Not willing to do so,implies an unwillingness to embrace Canadian values,and to remain an outsider in the eyes of many.Whats the point of that?Also would a male be allowed to cover his face like a bandit for official legal photos?