World
Photo: AP Photo: AP  

Canada bans women from wearing Muslim veils during citizenship oath

Photo of Caroline May
Caroline May
Political Reporter

America’s northern neighbor has banned women from wearing the burka and niqab while taking their oath of citizenship.

Canada, known for its welcoming immigration policies, is now prohibiting any face coverings during citizenship ceremonies in order to ensure that those taking the citizenship oath are actually reciting it.

In the announcement, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney explained that the decision came as a result of complaints from lawmakers, judges and citizens who said they could not tell whether those with covered faces were saying the oath.

“All we ask of people is to fulfill the requirements of citizenship and to swear an oath before one’s fellow citizens that one will be loyal to our traditions that go back centuries. This common pledge is the bedrock on which Canadian society rests,” he said Monday. “That is why starting today, my department will require that all those taking the oath do so openly. From today, all persons will be required to show their face when swearing the oath.”

Kenney added that the act of taking the citizenship oath “is a quintessentially public act” to show that one is joining the “Canadian family.”

“To segregate one group of Canadians or allow them to hide their faces, to hide their identity from us precisely when they are joining our community is contrary to Canada’s proud commitment to openness and to social cohesion,” Kenney said. “It’s important to note that this is an expectation. If Canada is to be true to our history and to our highest ideals, we cannot tolerate two classes of citizens. We cannot have two classes of citizenship ceremonies.”

The question of Muslim veils has plagued many Western democracies that walk a fine line between the practical need for identification and allowing for religious expression. In April, France became the first European country to ban the burka in pubic places.

Canada’s decision, which took effect immediately, has been met with mixed emotions.

Abdullah Khan, a member of the North Shore Islamic Information Centre, told Canada’s The Province that a majority of Muslims would not push back against it.

“Islam is also flexible to accommodate these needs,” he said.

The acting executive director of The Canadian Council of American-Islamic Relations, Ihsaan Gardee, however, took issue with the decision, saying that it called into question the good faith of Muslims taking the oath. Further, it would force Muslim women to chose between their religion and their desire to become a citizen, Gardee said.

“If implemented, this decision will have a damaging effect on our democracy because it forces those who wear the niqab to choose between their religious convictions and adopting Canadian citizenship,” Gardee said.

The B.C. Muslim Association expects Muslim women will follow the new regulation, but takes issue with how the government characterized the ban.

“We feel that the government should have consulted experts on Islamic law before enforcing the regulation in order to understand the correct position of niqab in Islam. The minister’s remarks about niqab being a completely cultural practice are inaccurate and Islamic legal texts can be referred to in this matter,” said BCMA president Musa Ismail and BCMA religious affairs spokesman Mufti Aasim Rashid in a statement.

“Likewise the presentation of the regulations as a ‘ban’ or ‘imposition’ and the minister’s public comments about Muslim women’s previous practice as being ‘ridiculous’ or ‘frankly bizarre’ do not exude finesse and inclusiveness,” said the BCMA leaders.

Follow Caroline on Twitter