10/07/2015 04:05 EDT | Updated 10/07/2016 05:12 EDT

Elections Canada Policy Allows Women To Wear Niqabs While Voting

A woman's right to wear a niqab has been a hot topic on the hustings, but when it comes to actually casting a ballot, it hasn't been an issue for Elections Canada in eight years.

Women who show up to vote on Oct. 19 wearing a face covering won't be forced to remove it to verify their identity. They will be asked to sign an oath attesting to their eligibility and to present two pieces of identification — at least one having a current address.

Chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand clarified that policy ahead of a trio of byelections in Quebec in 2007.

All of the major federal parties panned Mayrand's decision at the time. They said women should be forced to reveal their faces so their identities can be verified.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper noted that the parties voted to bring in a new law requiring visual identification of voters earlier that same year. The prime minister argued the Elections Canada policy ran counter to that.

The Conservatives then brought forward a bill to require niqabs be removed before voting, but it died when the federal election was called in the fall of 2008.

Elections Canada said it hasn't had any complaints about the policy since 2007 and, if lawmakers didn't like it, they could have made changes when the Canada Elections Act was amended last year.

"The CEO issued his instruction regarding electors voting with a face covering in an effort to ensure that the balance between integrity and accessibility is maintained in this rare circumstance," Elections Canada said in a statement Wednesday. 

"These rules were tacitly endorsed by Parliamentarians who chose not to legislate on the matter in the 2014 electoral reform bill."

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