Op-Ed

TORONTO (CUP)—IMMIGRATION MINISTER JASON Kenney—best known for his support of deportation policies—is in the spotlight once again. This time, it’s for his recent implementation of the niqab ban at Canadian citizenship ceremonies.

Coincidentally, Kenney made this an issue last December, when the Supreme Court of Canada was hearing arguments in the case of a woman who wanted to testify in court while wearing the niqab.

Kenney stated the veil “reflects a certain view about women that we don’t accept in Canada. We want women to be full and equal members of Canadian society … certainly when they’re taking the citizenship oath, that’s the right place to start.’’

Right place? Is Kenney going to determine a woman’s place by violating her right to wear what she wants? This isn’t just about the citizenship oath: Kenney is also a strong supporter of the proposed Bill 94 in Quebec. If implemented, the bill would seek to deny essential services to women who wear the niqab.

Aneesa, a vibrant and educated South Asian woman, has been wearing the niqab for 15 years. She was born and raised in Toronto, where she attended the University of Toronto and obtained a degree in Near Eastern studies at the St. George campus. She is now a married mother of two and a small business owner. Aneesa is also treasurer and secretary for the largest home schooling organization in Canada, as well as head of a magazine dedicated to topics concerning Muslim women.

“I have grown up seeing women wear niqab for 30 years in this country. Why are they being harassed and targeted now?” she says. “One of the beauties of living in Canada was the strong commitment to tolerance. That acceptance is what made Canada beautiful—that it was OK to be you, that it was OK to disagree.”

Aneesa says her neighbours have no problem with her dress, and it doesn’t cause anyone harm.

“I am a law-abiding citizen. I respect the existing laws of this land. I am a proud Canadian. My niqab does not cause any citizen harm. They should be discussing more pressing topics affecting this country such as issues pertaining to the gun registry, joblessness, food price hikes. Not a ban that fuels misunderstandings.”

Aneesa also condemns the hypocrisy of those within the Muslim community who did not support the rights and freedoms of women who wear the niqab.

“Had the community been stronger and more tolerant within, a ban would not have effectively been implemented,” she says. “How is it anyone’s business how I choose to dress, especially Muslims who oppose it? I’m not forcing anyone to wear it.”

Elizabeth Strout teaches English in Egypt, but was born in Quebec to Protestant parents. She converted to Islam in 2010 and wears the niqab. As a child, she always admired the veil in spite of having no understanding of Islam or veiling.

“It’s absurd that secular, western governments have taken it upon themselves to dictate to Muslims what their own religion does or does not require of them,” Strout says. “By banning the veil, even if it’s only in certain situations, the government is effectively saying that the veil is in some way harmful to the citizens of this country.”

Strout also renounces the idea of women being oppressed by the veil. Male relatives in her family, including her husband, have no say in what she wears.

I am someone who wears the hijab, the more common head-covering worn by Muslim women, and as a Canadian citizen, I am deeply concerned about the implications of this ban. It goes against the observance of religious freedoms outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Rarely will you come across a niqab-wearer who isn’t willing to cooperate with basic security measures. The ban in practice does not ensure that everyone is reciting the oath during citizenship ceremonies, as is its stated purpose. It is only a deliberate attempt to target and attack women who wear niqab, a gesture of intolerance and discouragement for those who seek to live in Canada. Hate the niqab, then disagree with it, but do not ban a woman’s right to wear it.

Kenney made it clear that the citizenship oath ceremony was the “right place to start.” The real question is, where will it end?

—Sadiah Waziri