Multiculturalism Minister Tim Uppal has said that the government will soon pass a bill to ban face coverings during citizenship ceremonies in Canada.
Uppal made the announcement just a few days before the Parliament’s summer break, calling it a last-minute bill that the government will be passing shortly. This follows Quebec’s recently introduced legislation which enforces religious neutrality in provincial institutions, requiring people receiving or providing provincial government services to have their faces uncovered. As a result of this legislation, some Muslim women may lose their right to wear niqabs.
However, Uppal says that the federal bill would not go as far as Quebec’s for the time being. « We broadly support Quebec’s legislation regarding the uncovering of faces for giving and receiving public services, » said Uppal.
« Our government will be moving forward in the coming days with legislation with respect to the face coverings at citizenship ceremonies, and we will consider what other measures may be necessary. »
The issue of the ban on face coverings has upset many Muslim women living in Canada, with many feeling that they are being forced to prove their loyalty to their country by going against their religious beliefs.
However, Uppal does not believe that the ban is Islamophobic. « We’ve been very clear that… regarding citizenship ceremonies, at a time when people are pledging allegiance to this country, when they’re joining the Canadian family, we find that Canadians expect that anyone joining the Canadian family at that time would have their face uncovered, » he said.
The niqab ban had been brought into force earlier in 2011 by the previous immigration minister Jason Kenney, who had issued a directive for citizenship judges to make it mandatory for Muslim women to remove their niqabs or any other face covering while reciting citizenship oaths.
However this ban was struck down by the federal court, with the judge ruling that women could take the citizenship oath in private and that the law does not require anyone to be « seen » taking it. The judge also said that the ban was not consistent with the duty assigned to citizenship judges and that citizenship applicants only needed to sign a form stating that they have taken the oath.
The court ruling sparked a wide debate on the issue in Canada, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowing to appeal the ruling.
« I believe, and I think most Canadians believe, that it is offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment where they are committing to join the Canadian family, » said Harper. « This is a society that is transparent, open and where people are equal. »
Critics of the ban have condemned Harper’s decision to appeal the court ruling. « I see that Muslims are often scapegoats for political debate. And that, I find it heartbreaking, » said Tom Mulcair of New Democrats.
Even if the bill for banning the niqab is introduced now, there isn’t sufficient time for new legislation to pass. However with this bill, the Conservatives have put forth their position on one of the key issues for the upcoming federal election scheduled for October 2015.