POLITICS

Jason Kenney References Shariah Law To Defend Niqab Position

06/23/2015 12:28 EDT | Updated 06/23/2015 12:59 EDT

Shortly after an historic meeting with Muslim leaders at 24 Sussex, Canada's defence minister took the unusual step of referencing Shariah law to defend the government's position on the niqab.

Jason Kenney, who joined Prime Minister Stephen Harper at an iftar dinner Monday evening where Muslim guests broke the Ramadan fast, made the remark on Twitter amid a debate about the face-covering veil.

Earlier in the day, Kenney tweeted a press release lauding the diversity of faith leaders on a new government advisory committee on religious freedom.

A Twitter follower suggested Kenney's words clashed with the government's insistence that Muslim women remove face-covering veils when taking the oath of citizenship.

Mubin Shaikh, a former CSIS operative credited with helping thwart the Toronto 18 terror plot, jumped into the fray. Shaikh, who goes by the Twitter handle "CaliphateCop," asked what removing the veil has to do with the oath.

Hajj is an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, in which believers are expected to have their faces uncovered.

Shaikh fired back at the comparison to Shariah law, a code of living for Muslims that some countries enforce in their legal system.

Late last week, Conservatives introduced the Oath of Citizenship Act, which would require citizenship candidates show their faces while pledging their commitment to Canada. Though the bill stood no chance of passing before the summer break, Government House Leader Peter Van Loan said it and other pieces of last-minute legislation reflect the "agenda" Tories will pursue if re-elected this fall.

In unveiling the bill, Multiculturalism Minister Tim Uppal said Canadians expect new citizens to reveal their faces at the moment they become "part of the Canadian family."

"This means they are committing publicly to embracing Canada's values and traditions, including the equality of men and women," he said.

The legislation is in response to a Federal Court ruling in February that determined it was unlawful to require citizenship candidates to remove face coverings while taking the oath.

Harper said at the time that it was "offensive" that anyone would want to hide their identity while taking the oath. He also said niqabs were products of a "culture that is anti-women" — a remark that spurred mockery from many women online through the hashtag, #DressCodePM.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who has publicly accused Harper of pandering to anti-Muslim fears, said Monday that Harper deliberately "used" Sikh cabinet minister Uppal, who sports a Tory-blue turban, to sell the bill.

Uppal told iPolitics that Trudeau's comments were "outrageous and offensive."

With a file from The Canadian Press

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