Larry Miller and the case against the niqab – Wherry

Aaron Wherry’s two questions:

First, if the government wishes to see the niqab banned, why doesn’t it change the regulations to reflect that? I asked the office of Minister Chris Alexander that question and a spokesman responded, “We are not going to speculate on hypotheticals and we are going to make our arguments in court.” (In an op-ed published today, law professor Richard Moon suggests the government amend the regulations, though Moon notes that would trigger a Charter challenge, which the government would lose.)

Second, and more crucial, it seems to me, if the government adamantly believes the niqab should be banned during the oath, why did the government apparently tell the court that the directive was not mandatory, but optional? Here, again, are the first three sentences of paragraph 30 of Justice Boswell’s ruling:

The Respondent argues that this application is premature. In its view, the Policy is not mandatory and citizenship judges are free not to apply it. As such, there is no way to know what would have happened had the Applicant attended the ceremony and refused to uncover her face.

So it would seem that while the government is publicly declaring that wearing the niqab during the oath is unequivocally not something that should be allowed, it has otherwise defended the policy as quite open to equivocation. Beyond the legal arguments here, that seems to my untrained eye like a serious complication for the government’s political argument.

Whatever Larry Miller’s views of where the hell one should situate oneself, the government’s basic argument would seem to amount to this: that a citizenship ceremony is of a particular nature that the government should be able to impose a standard of dress for it, regardless of an individual’s claim to religious freedom, so far as the niqab is concerned. In light of all else—and, I might add, the Supreme Court’s ruling on when a niqab should be removed during a trial—it remains a weak and uninspiring argument. It is a principle without a practical basis that would have the government dismiss a fundamental right. It is to presume that the state can, without substantial cause, dictate attire and place a limit on one’s religious freedom.

Larry Miller and the case against the niqab –

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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