Jason Kenney, the immigration minister in 2011, had banned niqabs during swearing-in ceremonies. Before this ban, wearing a niqab on such occasions had been perfectly acceptable. According to his argument (which he gave in an interview in 2012), taking the citizenship oath is “a declaration of your membership in the community and you do that in front of your fellow citizens in public.”
Kenney recently tweeted his support for this policy when a woman took his government to court on the grounds that banning her right to wear a niqab violates her rights under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Kenney’s stance is complicated since it was him who had last year supported the rights of women to wear niqabs at work after a debate had ensued on whether women who are caregivers to children should be allowed to wear a veil.
Many Canadians had argued that people caring for other people’s children should not wear conspicuous religious clothing, especially something that covers their faces. However majority supported women’s decision. Kenny had at that time made the statement, “We believe that freedom of religion and conscience are universal values.”
Many Canadians like Kenney seem to believe that while it is ok for a woman in Canada to live and work while wearing a niqab, it is inappropriate to do so during a citizenship swearing-in ceremony. Their argument is that since Canada is a multicultural country that protects citizens’ religious freedoms, it is not too much to ask for Muslim women to set these freedoms aside for a occasion as important as taking an oath of citizenship. They say that Muslim women should respect Canada’s request with the same openness and spirit of accommodation with which Canada is willing to respect their religious freedoms.
However on the other side, the critics of the ban believe that a religious freedom is a religious freedom and not something that one practices only for the convenience of the wider society. The critics say that Canadian courts have recognized that it might be vital to ask Muslim women to remove their niqabs while testifying in criminal court cases if doing otherwise might jeopardize a fair trial. However, they point out, the oath ceremony of citizenship is hardly as critical to impose such a ban.
Source: Globe & Mail