Harper wants to ‘examine’ ban on niqab in public service and the ‘duty to accommodate’

Beyond playing identity politics on the issue, there is a need for a more substantive discussion, based upon evidence (including the data on the religious affiliation of public servants as in my background note Religious Minorities in the Public Service) and how the “duty to accommodate” policy would be applied in the case of a request (and how any previous requests – if they exist – were handled).

Any request would not just be handled at the working level but would most likely involve HR officials and more senior officials and would likely emerge into the public domain.

A quick review of TBS’s Duty to accommodate guide for managers shows it largely focuses on accommodation for persons with disabilities, with little guidance with respect to religious accommodation. The Canadian Human Rights Commission and provincial equivalents provide more guidance and examples, but no examples of niqabs or gender-based segregation based upon my quick review (corrections welcome).

And a reminder, the duty to accommodate does not mean agreeing to the specific request or the specific form of accommodation requested:

A re-elected Conservative government would “examine” whether to prohibit public servants from wearing the face-covering garment known as the niqab, leader Stephen Harper said Tuesday.

“That’s a matter we’re going to examine,” Harper told Rosemary Barton during an interview on CBC’s Power & Politics Tuesday. “Quebec, as you know, has legislation on this. We’re looking at that legislation.”

The prime minister was referring to Bill 62, introduced by Quebec’s Liberal government in June, which contains measures to prohibit public servants from wearing niqabs in provincial offices.

Harper’s notion earned swift denunciations.

“Stephen Harper is trying to play politics with sensitive issues. It smacks of political manipulation,” said Paul Dewar, the incumbent NDP candidate in Ottawa Centre.

Catherine McKenna, the Liberal candidate in Ottawa Centre, agreed. “The niqab in the public service is not a serious issue, it’s a diversion tactic.”

Ron Cochrane, co-chairman of the National Joint Council, called it an “example of Harper trying to create a problem where there isn’t one now.”

“If there are people who wear the niqab providing services to Canadians, no one has ever complained about their dress, so why is he making it an issue when it hasn’t been before?”

“This election is too important to be distracted by Mr. Harper’s questionable tactics,” said Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. “Unlike this prime minister, we respect the rule of law and our focus is on defending our ability to deliver essential public services to Canadians.”

The niqab issue has become a hot-button election topic in recent days, as the Federal Court of Appeal rejected the government’s application for a stay of a Federal Court decision in favour of a Muslim woman, Zunera Ishaq, who wants to wear a niqab during her citizenship ceremony.

Source: Harper wants to ‘examine’ ban on niqab in public service | Ottawa Citizen

C-24 Citizenship Act: Senate Hearings – 11 June

Second and last day of witnesses at Senate Committee examining C-24. Same technical frustrations with Parlvu, so again have captured as best I can.

Starting with supporting witnesses:

Martin Collacott of the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform noted these changes were long overdue. Longer residency and physical presence would reduce fraud, noting many “parked their families in Canada, benefitting from Canadian healthcare and education while they worked abroad.” Increased penalties and filing of tax returns made sense. However, the only secure way to eliminate residence fraud was through entry and exit controls. Higher language requirements were needed for more skilled labour and management and extension of language requirements to 14-64 was welcome. He supported revocation for treason or terror and noted UK has an even more strict approach (no statelessness provision). A 2012 survey showed 80 percent supported for revocation. He welcomed the Lost Canadians fix. He also stated the need for the government to end jus soli (birthright citizenship) but noted some of the challenges working with the provinces.
Sheryl Saperia of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies largely repeated her earlier testimony to CIMM. Revocation was about ‘updating the social contract of citizenship.”  It was “fitting to lose citizenship” for treason, terrorism or armed conflict. But the Bill should be tightened to terrorism in Canada, against Canadian targets or for Canadian listed entities. If nothing to do with Canada, there should be no citizenship consequences. Persons should not be able to use the Canadian passport to travel for terror; we needed to “remove this weapon of Canadian citizenship” given the freedom to travel that it entails. As before, she noted the need for a second test of due process and fairness in the case of foreign convictions. She also mentioned argued that Canadian passport applications should include an acknowledgement that engagement in terrorism or treason could entail revocation, again to reinforce the social contract.

Tim Edwards, President and Ron Cochrane, Executive Director Executive Director, Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers expressed their support for ensuring that the children born to Crown servants born abroad would have an exemption to the first generation limit to allow them to pass on Canadian citizenship to their children. No debate or discussion, apart from a quip by Senator Eggleton that “we should pass it and kill the rest.”

Opposing the Bill were:

Barbara Jackman, Kerri Froc, Barbara J. Caruso, Canadian Bar Association started with their overall assessment that C-24 discouraged persons from applying through its “layers of regulations, harder, longer and more costly process.” Like others, CBA opposed elimination of pre-P.R. time. They questioned how an applicant would prove their intent to reside and reiterated their concern that despite the Minister’s assurance regarding possible grounds for misrepresentation should one’s intent to reside change post-citizenship. CBA, like most lawyers, opposed revocation for dual nationals. It is discriminatory and takes away the “certainty of citizenship.” Banishment or exile was a way to “get through the back door what the Government couldn’t get through the “front door.”

Yuen Pau Woo, President and CEO, Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada provided a different perspective by focussing on the contribution made by Canadians living abroad. He focussed this criticism on the increased residency requirements. He believed that this would result in reduced citizenship accession rates. This would result in fewer economic benefits to Canada; if citizenship was relatively easy, more new Canadians would invest in their human capital and improve their earning power. The intent was not clear: if to punish immigrants, this would not increase attachment. If to curb abuse of social benefit programs, given that these programs are available to permanent residents, increasing citizenship requirements would not make a difference. The best mix was a high bar to entry but a relatively low bar for citizenship. The general implications of the Bill were that Canadians residing in Canada were “more Canadian than those abroad.” This was an outdated view, given the high mobility of labour in today’s world, particularly the most highly talented (“best and brightest”). Some 2.8 million Canadians lived abroad, or 9 percent of the population. Restoring voting rights beyond 5 years was an additional way to encourage attachment to Canada. Increased residency requirements would reduce both economic benefits and attachment to Canada.

Melynda Jarratt, Canadian War Brides, in a strongly worded statement, talked about the history of Canadian war brides who were initially welcomed to Canada along with their children as Canadians but the “bureaucrats changed their mind.” Canadian citizenship did not start in 1947 with the first Citizenship Act but there were many government statements and court decisions that mentioned Canadian citizenship before then. She argued for the need for a citizenship ombudsman and amnesty program to address the remaining estimated 50,000 Lost Canadians not addressed by C-24. It was also important to recognize the Canadian war dead from both World Wars as Canadian, not just British subjects. She ended by saying that it was “disgraceful” how Don Chapman was treated and not able to testify.

Particular points of interest:

  • As expected, focus was on revocation. Senator Eggleton noted the current trial in Egypt of Mohamed Fahmy, a dual citizen. If convicted, theoretically his citizenship could be revoked. Collacott noted that was a worst case and unlikely  scenario.  Revocation was needed to deal with serious acts against Canada.
  • Senator Eaton questioned Canadian Iranians who go to Iran, engage in political activity, and then “wave their Canadian passport when they get into trouble. “Why get involved if Canada is your home?” A bit odd, given the Government’s encouragement of Ukrainian Canadians and others to participate in their “homeland” issues.
  • Saperia said that not every distinction is necessarily discriminatory. People who choose dual citizenship should not view themselves as discriminated against. C-24 protected people against statelessness. Collacott, rather candidly, noted that “we can’t get rid of Canadians we don’t like” but we can for dual nationals. Caruso noted the equality and mobility rights of the Charter made this approach discriminatory.
  • A somewhat amusing exchange between Senator Eggleton and Saperia over whether revocation was really only about Omar Kadr. Saperia, reluctant to get into a debate over Kadr, cited the recent Globe article, Made-in-Canada terror is real – and it’s being ignored, said it is a broader issue.
  • Saperia stated that the decision-making process was less important than ensuring the right factors were concerned. Whether decided by the Courts, the Minister or an official was secondary.
  • Senator Tkachuk challenged the assertion that the increase in fees was unreasonable.Caruso said the increase was “overwhelming for many.”
  • Good discussion on increased residency requirements. Senator Seidman noted that 4 years out of 6 provided considerable flexibility to address work, study, or family related travel. Woo emphasized that in a world of global careers, the need to diversity Canada’s trade beyond the US and the importance of contacts, more flexibility is required. Otherwise, Canada would get a “poorer quality of applicants.” Both Collacott and Senator Eaton expressed scepticism over the benefits to Canada of such internationally mobile citizens.
  • Woo also noted that too much attention was paid to the evacuation and return of Lebanese Canadians in 2006. There was a need to protect against abuse. Evacuations could be paid by the evacuees.

Committee hearings today feature Minister Alexander, so expect a spirited exchange given the tone of some of his recent remarks on critics of the Bill.