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Media Bites: How Niqabs Brought Canadian Media Together

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I know we're still one sleep away from Christmas, but that's no reason to deny ourselves an early gift from everyone's favorite elderly, jelly-bellied, red-and-white fur-clad icon of holiday cheer!

We're talking, of course, about our fluffy-robed buddies at the Supreme Court of Canada, who on Thursday ruled that burka-clad women are allowed to keep themselves burka'd whilst testifying at trial.

Or something like that. Writing in the National Post, David Frum thinks the high court basically "failed to do its job and earn its pay" with this ruling, since their convoluted 4-2-1 judgement hardly provided a definitive yes-or-no answer to a nation desperate to hear one.

"Sometimes niqab in court will be OK. Sometimes niqab will not be OK," he summarizes -- it all depends on some lawyerly "tangle of conditional rules" that future judges must weigh before determining the precise level of OK-ness in de-niqabbing future Muslim witnesses.

Dave's a good little conservative (some say) but he's so frustrated by all this legal rigmarole that he thinks "even a 'yes' would have been tolerable" from the Supremes if it actually meant the burkas-in-courts question -- one of the most critical religious freedom/multicultural accommodation dilemmas of our time -- got a friggin' answer.

Oh, you would say that, Frummy, you big fat American sell-out, responds the Globe and Mail editorial board. Wouldn't expect you to appreciate how this open-door ambiguity really proves the court's uniquely Canadian brilliance.

After all, "striving for balance is what characterizes Canada in so many different contexts," they say, noting that the court's "very Canadian proposition" on this "most Canadian of cases" proudly demonstrates how Canadians will always err on the side of Canadianness whenever Canada seems in danger of losing a bit of its Canadiana. It's our plucky Cana-do spirit!

Yes, I also love Canada, agrees noted lawyer James Morton in the Ottawa Citizen, especially our judicial system's proud ability to "balance sincerely held religious beliefs against other interests."

Unlike David, Jimmy thinks the SCC ruling is hardly some migraine-inducing Magic Eye puzzle of judicial obscurantism; in essence, the judges simply said that if "evidence is contentious and there is a real reason to watch the witness's reaction to questions" then veil-stripping "is proper and necessary." If not, then not.

Regardless, Jamie knows that anyone who gets all hysterically burkaphobic about this kinda thing is clearly on the wrong side of history anyway, since eventually "women who wear the niqab will be seen as integral to Canadian society as nuns," (i.e., they'll become a widely-mocked symbol of archaic puritanism known mostly through boxing hand-puppets and Whoopi Goldberg movies).

Even ornery ol' Lorne Gunter at Sun News thinks the Supremeos did good with their "sensible, practical, old-fashioned Canadian compromise."

Look, he says, in "my mind, the niqab and what it stands for is offensive to women," but personal brain-droppings are not necessarily "something I want the state to impose on other citizens who disagree." If there's "no threat to justice, why not respect religious beliefs" that are mostly harmless anyway? Call Lorne when murderers are being found not guilty by reason of burka.

So how about that? The Globe, Citizen, and Sun News all on the same side of an issue. It's a Christmas miracle!

And all it took was Islam.

***

With generic winter-themed gift-giving holiday mere hours away, Canada's papers have been predictably crammed with all sorts of maudlin filler editorials about Jesus and Nazis and being alive and so forth. (Trite to be sure -- though still better than Victoria Day filler).

But the end of December also means the end of the calendar, and therefore time to crack out journalism's other beloved equivalent of turkey stuffing: the year-in-review editorial.

Now, the secret to writing a good retrospective is to burn through it quickly so you can still get to the New Year's party before they run out of those flimsy paper crowns. So be sure to avoid wasting a lot of time blathering about the entire useless year itself -- which, let's be honest, was full of junk that was barely interesting the first time around -- and instead just horn in on a single event or person you did find entertaining. Then all that's left is to churn out a few paragraphs of vague and unconvincing generalities about how this one random thing actually personified the essence of 365 unrelated days.

The Canadian Press, for instance, identifies homely man-child / "Canadian Psycho" Luka Magnotta as Canada's "newsmaker of the year," presumably because it gives them another chance to write the phrase "sexual and cannibalistic acts," while Maclean's' names Queen Elizabeth II and Mark Zuckerberg presumably for the same reason (because they're super-famous, I mean).

Don MacPherson in the Montreal Gazette, meanwhile, generalizes that 2012 was Quebec's "year of the women" because a couple gals in that province held powerful jobs like unpopular minority government premier and fringe fourth-place party co-leader, while our old bud Andrew Coyne is pleased to inform that 2012 was a year in which all of Canada's most important stories coincidentally revolved around his favorite pet issues.

With a week to go 'till January 1, there's probably still a lot of these "best-ofs" and "year-ofs" yet to come, and no doubt most will continue to be just as hackneyed and self-serving.

But frankly, who are we to judge?

Trust me, you don't wanna see who the Canadian people picked as man of the year.

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