OTTAWA — The Conservative government’s announcement Monday that it will prevent Muslim women from wearing face coverings during citizenship ceremonies is being met with applause from a group of moderate Muslims calling for a Canadian ban on niqabs and burqas and total rejection from another group saying it is an assault on religious freedom and a step towards assimilation.
Tahir Gora, secretary general of the Muslim Canadian Congress, described Monday's news as “wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.”
“I think this is really one step in the right direction of our call,” Gora told The Huffington Post. The Muslim Canadian Congress has been lobbying Ottawa for a total ban on niqabs in Canada.
“Only a very tiny percentage of women put the niqab on their face – which is a very extremist element of our community,” Gora said.
“It should be completely banned in Canada … We feel that this is a marginalization of Muslim women. When you put a niqab on a woman, they are unable to fulfill their duties, they are unable to intermingle in the society,” he said.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and prominent critic of Islam, went even further. "Niqab donning women should not get citizenship at all. It is crystal clear that they reject Canadian values and that their allegiance is first to a foreign legal system (Shariah) over the Canadian constitution, country and people," Hirsi Ali told HuffPost. "Giving citizenship has become such a routine practice in liberal democracies that people have forgotten its original meaning of loyalty and commitment to the community you want to belong to."
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced in Montreal Monday that from now on veiled women would not be allowed to take the oath of citizenship without showing their faces.
"This is really a matter of pure principle which is at the very heart of our identity and our values with respect to openness and equality," Kenney said. "The oath of citizenship is basically a public gesture, a public declaration that shows that you are joining the Canadian family and this has to be done freely and openly, not secretly. Isolating and separating a group of Canadians or allowing that group to hide their faces while they are becoming members of our community is completely counter to Canada's commitment to openness and social cohesion."
The Canadian Islamic Congress, however, judged the move an attack on religious freedoms.
“Those women have the same rights as other Canadian citizens. The laws apply to us equally,” Whida Valiante, the Congress’ national president told HuffPost. “If the Minister thinks that these women are not living by the very heart of our values, and just by taking the niqab off they will join the heart of our values, they already have. They went through the process of learning and making sure that they passed the (citizenship) exams. If their heart and soul was not there, why would they do all that?”
“Mr. Kenney, really, he is not consulting the community. I mean he ask one person and comes up with this. If he had consulted a large community, we are Shia and Sunni and the largest group of Muslims and we have a lot of scholars in our midst who can understand and explain and even draw negotiations around these issues, and he should do that. Then that would be a Canadian value,” Valiante said. “We hold that dear to us, we want our freedoms and we want to be able to do it openly.”
Kenney said he had recently received complaints from members of Parliament, citizenship judges and even participants in citizenship ceremonies that they felt it was difficult to know if a women whose face was covered was really taking the oath.
Valiante suggested if hearing the oath was a problem, they should use microphones.
After his announcement, however, Kenney went further, suggesting on CBC that he believes veiled women are not participating in greater society, and that facial coverings should not be encouraged.
"This (the citizenship oath) is an act of public witness, you are standing up in front of your fellow citizens making a solemn commitment to be loyal to the country, and I just think it's not possible to do that with your face covered and it also, I think, just undermines the whole approach that we are trying to do through citizenship, which is to make people fully members of our community. I do not know how you can do that from behind a kind of a mask," he said.
The minister acknowledged there would likely be criticism coming from more religious groups, but he suggested those would be “very marginal.”
Wearing the niqab or a face covering, Kenney said, was not a religious obligation since it wasn’t necessary during pilgrimages.
"It is a cultural tradition which I think reflects a certain view about women that we do not accept in Canada. We want women to be full and equal members of Canadian society and certainly, when they are taking the citizenship oath, that is the right place to start."
The head of the Canadian Islamic Congress, Valiente, accused Kenney of having “an ideological agenda of so-called assimilation.”
“Assimilation doesn’t work by the way, we tried that on our native population. We said your religion is wrong, you are wrong, your language is wrong, your clothes are wrong, and we have basically annihilated their culture and cost them untold misery. And Canadians suffer with that too,” Valiante said.
Muslim face coverings, such as the niqab and the burqa, have sparked fierce debate in Canada. A case is currently before the Supreme Court debating whether Muslim women can testify in court with their faces covered.
The case is being seen as a fight between a woman's religious right and the right to a fair trial.
Last year, Quebec introduced legislation that would force women to unveil before receiving public services.
In Europe, bans on Muslim face coverings have been proposed in a number of countries. France has instituted a ban and The Netherlands is in the midst of passing such legislation.
WHAT TWITTER IS SAYING ABOUT THE BAN ON FACE COVERINGS DURING CITIZENSHIP CEREMONIES