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Naheed Nenshi Delivers Another Niqab Reality Check For Tories

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Conservatives say they’re enjoying a lift in support thanks to the party's stance on the niqab issue, but that doesn’t mean its position is grounded in any sort of reality, according to Calgary’s mayor.

On Friday, Naheed Nenshi told The National’s Wendy Mesley he personally doesn’t like the niqab and wishes people wouldn’t wear it.

But what he likes even less, is "telling people what to do.”

He criticized Conservatives for the party's two-prong message: that the niqab is symbol of oppression and that women should not “let their husbands and brothers” govern how they should dress.

“How is that any different than letting Jason Kenney telling them what to wear?” Nenshi asked. “If Jason believes that, then Jason should attempt to ban it everywhere. Not for 30 seconds of somebody’s life during a citizenship ceremony.”

He chided Conservatives on the priority the party has given to the much-ballyhooed issue over other national concerns.

Days earlier, the mayor called out Conservative Leader Stephen Harper’s stance on the niqab as “unbelievably dangerous.”

“If we want to have a conversation about the status of women in this country, let’s have that conversation,” Nenshi said. “Let’s talk about murdered and missing aboriginal women, let’s talk about the UN chastising Canada for its poor performance on women’s issues, and let’s talk about real social change.”

The mayor listed initiatives including increased funding for shelters, more concerted efforts to help women escape from domestic violence situations as ones more worthy of attention.

Wedge issue that ‘won’t go away’

According to a poll commissioned by the prime minister in March, a majority of Canadians support Harper’s stance on banning the wearing of a niqab during the oath of citizenship.

Léger Marketing found 82 per cent were in support of the policy nationally, and 93 per cent in favour in Quebec — a province in which the Conservatives hope to win seats from the NDP.

Both the Tories and the Bloc have hammered NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair in ads over his stance against the niqab ban. During a French leaders’ debate on Sept. 24, Harper defended his position by attempting to frame it as an issue about gender equality.

“Never, never will I say to my daughter that a woman has to cover her face because she’s a woman,” he said in Montreal. “This is Canada…It’s unacceptable.”

The ban was first introduced in 2011. Since then, more than 680,000 citizenship ceremonies have been held — and only two women have refused to abide by the ban.

It’s become a wedge issue that has exasperated many across the country. Those gathered at an event organized by the Canadian Council of Muslim Women on Sunday said the national focus has made some feel “demonized.”

“It’s an issue that won’t go away and it’s not even that important,” Maryam Dadabhoy said.

“We need to see a government that just makes us feel more a part of the community and not being ostracized. Not very many people do wear [the] niqab, but it’s being thrown in everyone’s face.”

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