Three more NDP candidates in Quebec are backing away from party leader Thomas Mulcair's stated policy on the niqab and are telling their constituents they oppose the wearing of face veils during citizenship ceremonies.
Danielle Landreville, the NDP candidate in Joliette, said Tuesday that she opposes the wearing of the niqab, pure and simple.
"I believe it is important for a woman to show her face to clearly identify herself during the oath of citizenship," Landreville said in a press release on NDP letterhead.
Michel Harnois, her communications adviser, told The Huffington Post Canada that NDP president Rebecca Blaikie had seen and approved Landreville's communiqué before it went out to the media.
NDP spokeswoman Valérie Dufour, however, denied that it had been shared with or approved by party headquarters.
The NDP is very worried about the niqab issue, which, polls suggest, is staunchly opposed by the vast majority of Quebecers. Seeing an opportunity to make gains in the province, the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois have attacked the NDP over the issue.
Romeo Saganash, the incumbent candidate for Abitibi–Baie-James–Nunavik–Eeyou, seemed to suggest Monday during a local debate that new Canadians should learn to assimilate.
"When the first French settlers arrived, they knew how to not only adapt, but they also adopted certain practices and customs of the First Nations," the Cree MP said, according to a clip posted on Radio-Canada's website.
"That is what we must do, with regards to this. The niqab, for me, personally, and I don't think my party would be in agreement with me … on this, but the niqab is an oppressor's clothing," he said.
Last week, another NDP incumbent candidate, Pierre Nantel, told constituents during a debate in his riding of Longueuil–Saint-Hubert that he also opposes the wearing of the niqab during citizenship ceremonies.
"With regards to my own vote, I am completely in agreement with this notion that we must show our faces," he said, to strong applause from the audience, the local le Courrier du Sud newspaper reported.
That same day, Mulcair was telling a crowd in Montreal that he understood why some people might feel that the niqab was a sign of oppression.
"No one has the right to tell a woman what she must — or must not — wear," he said.
"If some of these women are being oppressed, we have to reach out to them, and it is not by depriving them of their Canadian citizenship and their rights that we can help them," the leader added.
In a carefully crafted speech a day before the first French-language debate, Mulcair took great pains to express his party's position. He blamed Stephen Harper for inflaming a divisive debate but restated his position that women should be free to wear a niqab when they swear an oath of citizenship.
'These people will remain candidates'
On Tuesday, however, Dufour refused to say whether the NDP favours or opposes the wearing of the niqab during the citizenship ceremony. She insisted that the NDP's position is that women have to unveil before taking part in the ceremony, which they must do for security reasons to prove their identity — something that has never been under question.
Dufour said none of the candidates who have spoken out against the niqab would be sanctioned.
"These people will remain candidates," she said.
"The debate on the niqab is important in Quebec. The NDP understands the unease," Dufour added. "The Conservatives are using a sensitive topic to deflect from their record."
Tory spokeswoman Catherine Loubier said the NDP and the Liberals — who also oppose the Conservatives' ban on the niqab — were disconnected.
"Mulcair may try to distance himself, but Mulcair's position is clear. He believes [the] oath of citizenship should be done with one's face covered, including with a full-face veil," she wrote in an email, pointing to a clip from the NDP leader affirming he was as likely to ban niqabs from citizenship ceremonies as he was to vote in favour of scrapping the freedom of the press.
Bloc says NDP's position offside with most Quebecers
Bloc Québécois spokesman Dominic Vallières said it is difficult for the NDP to take a position that runs counter to what 90 per cent of Quebecers want.
"On several files that are fundamental to Quebec — including the Energy East pipeline — the NDP's position is in opposition to the feelings of the majority of Quebecers. So it's certain that the pressure must be immense within the NDP caucus," he said.
The Liberals declined to comment.
Earlier this month, Jean-Francois Delisle, the NDP candidate for Mégantic–L'Érable, told The Canadian Press he disagrees with the wearing of the niqab, and he raised the idea of amending the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to revisit the idea of freedom of religion. He was later forced to withdraw his remarks, saying they didn't reflect his or his party's views.
In March, Alexandre Boulerice, the NDP incumbent in Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie, said he was also uncomfortable with the idea of women wearing the niqab in society.
"The niqab is a type of barrier that is created between women and the rest of society. It is a wall. It is something that shocks us and with which we are totally uncomfortable," he said on TVA.
Although the NDP's Quebec wing tweeted Boulerice's comments, the party office in Ottawa said Boulerice, their star MP in the province, was speaking on his own behalf.
The Federal Court of Appeal two weeks ago upheld a lower court's ruling that found the Conservative government's policy of banning the niqab during citizenship oaths unlawful. The policy was deemed to contravene the Citizenship Act, which instructs judges to allow for accommodation of religious beliefs, a panel of three-judges said.
The Conservatives responded by asking the Supreme Court for leave to appeal the decision and promised to introduce legislation in the first 100 days if they are re-elected to prohibit wearing the niqab during the citizenship oath.
The debate sparked a heated exchanged between Harper and Mulcair during the first French-language debate on Thursday. It is expected to come up again on Friday, during the final leaders debate, which will be in French.
With files from Catherine Lévesque and Jessica Chin
Also on HuffPost