Wedge Politics and Fear Mongering

lumb-mainBy Sean Lumb
Published: Oct 21, 2015

 

TO BAN the wearing of the niqab during the citizenship ceremony, or not?  “Not” is the only rational answer in a free and democratic society such as Canada’s. We are a multicultural society — apart from our First Nation peoples, we are all immigrants — based on civility and mutual respect for our fellow citizen. Our right to individuality, to express our individuality, and to religious freedom is enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
First, however, let’s consider what the proposed ban on the niqab in the citizenship ceremony was actually trying to achieve, and compare it to what many Canadians think it was trying to achieve. A majority of Canadians polled recently supported the ban on the niqab during the citizenship ceremony, many citing a concern that the identity of the person swearing the oath cannot be confirmed when the person is wearing the niqab. This concern is completely misplaced: the ban was originally proposed to ensure that citizenship officials could verify that the person swearing the oath is actually speaking the words of the oath. However, it’s not a question of seeing the person swearing the oath; as a citizenship official you need to be able to hear the person swearing the oath. By the same misguided logic, heavy beards on men taking the oath should be banned during the ceremony, for fear of missing their elocution. What a person wears to their citizenship ceremony has no bearing on the significance of the oath that they swear. 
Second, let’s consider precedent. Canada allows its Sikh RCMP officers to wear the turban while on duty and also, presumably, during the swearing-in ceremony on graduation from the RCMP training centre in Regina.
Third, let’s get back to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, enshrining our right to choose.  People in Canada are afforded the right to wear what they want to wear, regardless of the original historical or religious motivation, and to honour their cultural heritage. By analogy to the niqab, consider that up until the early 20th century Western women were forced to wear dresses and skirts. It was unacceptable for a woman during this early period to appear in pants or breeches, revealing the full length of their legs and the roundness of their bums.  This dress code was culturally and religiously motivated.  Today women freely choose to wear skirts and dresses despite the historical significance.
Finally, let’s consider the sheer statistics that underpin this non-issue. The proportion of Muslim Canadian women who wear the niqab is astonishingly small — I’ve read that it’s two per cent (unconfirmed) and the number who’ve requested they wear niqab to their citizenship ceremony is even smaller. In stark contrast, to what expense has the Conservative Party of Canada and the taxpayers of Canada gone to make this an issue?
So in conclusion: Is the security of Canada compromised by allowing the niqab in the citizenship ceremony? NO. Does Canada consistently ban other forms of cultural and religious dress or accessory on these grounds? NO. Does Canada prop up the oppression of women by allowing the niqab in the citizenship ceremony?  NO.  
On the other hand, is our freedom to choose infringed by this ban? YES. Has the blowing up of this non-issue into a wedge political issue been a colossal waste of taxpayer’s money?  YES.  Is the Conservative Party of Canada using this non-issue to distract the Canadian public from an analysis of its pathetic governance record and from debating the real issues that matter to the election on October 19?  YES.  This is wedge politics, the lowest form of politics. This is fear mongering to create an issue where none exists, solely for the purpose of distraction and vote pandering. Am I surprised that the Conservatives have stooped so low? NO.