Douglas Todd: Canadians far from resolving not-so-minor niqab issue

More on the niqab in the aftermath of Douglas Todd’s interview with Zunera Ishaq, highlighting some of her apparent contradictions and inconsistencies.

One aspect missing from these discussions is a comparison with the traditionalists or the fundamentalists within other faiths, and how their values are or are not compatible with what we think are Canadian values:

SFU social policy specialist John Richards points out Ishaq’s hearing never got to the Charter of Rights arguments. It’s another indication the debate is not over.

The niqab raises the question Quebec’s noted Taylor-Bouchard commission attempted to answer on the limits of tolerance, which is: How far should Canadians go to “reasonably accommodate” certain cultural practices?

Appropriately, UBC political scientist emeritus Philip Resnick distinguishes Canada’s niqab debate from the August controversy over some French cities banning the full-body “burkini” from beaches.

“The burkini debate arose because emotions were very raw in the aftermath of the Muslim terrorist attack on Nice on Bastille Day. I think there is no more reason to deny women the right to wear a flowing garment when swimming than to deny them a bikini or string swimming suit.”

But Resnick urges Canadians to “avoid tut-tutting and moralizing” over Europeans’ generally more restrictive response to the niqab. “I wonder how quickly Canadian tolerance would be replaced by fear if we had to deal with an intransigent Islamist contingent in our midst?”

I originally intended to write just one column on the far-reaching niqab debate. But plans changed last week when Ishaq, after many earlier calls to her family’s Mississauga residence, picked up the phone and answered some fresh questions.

In addition to emphasizing her “choice” to cover her face, Ishaq said she believes in strict segregation of the sexes, opposes homosexuality and abortion, believes women are “unclean” during menstruation and is convinced Muslims must obey Islamic commands.

…Questions too ‘gentle’

Richards, who travels frequently to South Asia for research, appreciated my exploration into Ishaq’s paradoxical worldview, but also suggested I’d been “gentle.”

I could have asked Ishaq about “apostasy,” which refers to the rejection of a religion, said Richards.

A Pew Research poll found 75 per cent of Pakistanis believe a person should be executed for apostasy.

Many people in Pakistan, the fifth largest source of immigrants to Canada, also believe women must wear niqabs. And hundreds of Pakistani women are killed each year in “honour killings.”

Given the global geo-political issues, I could also have been more curious when Ishaq (who is now on a family trip in Pakistan) said “no comment” in regards to Saudi Arabia’s pressure on women to wear full-length burkas and niqabs.

Even though Ishaq says she is devoted to the supreme value of “choice,” it was unusual that she passed up the chance to criticize an Islamic government that removes women’s choice and requires them to dress a certain way.

Ishaq is affiliated with several politicized Muslim organizations, including the Hanafi school of thought, which believes apostasy is a sin punishable by death, according to the Federal Court and Richards.

Canadian Muslim writer Tarek Fetah has also shown Ishaq has connections with Jamaat-e-Islami and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), which are part of the ultraconservative Salafist movement.

Given Ishaq’s apparent contradictions, Toronto blogger Eiynah says “framing the niqab as some sort of feminist tool of bodily autonomy is the most ludicrous, topsy-turvy thing I’d ever heard of.”

Similarly, Resnick, who specializes in anglophone and francophone cultures, finds it “extraordinary” that many secular left-wing people defend the niqab.

“Ultimately, the issue goes back to the one the Bouchard-Taylor commission in Quebec sought to tackle — what constitutes reasonable accommodation?” Resnick says.

“The niqab offends Canadian sensibilities in a way that the head scarf does not. It reminds us there are countries where women cannot show their faces in public. It represents the most backward-looking and repressive feature of Salafist ideology.

“At the minimum I would agree with those who would bar the wearing of a niqab at any citizenship ceremony. Nor would I see it as acceptable garb for anyone working in the public sector and therefore having to serve a much more diverse Canadian public.”

Like Swedes, political scientists say, Canadians tend to believe in their exceptionalism.

“Many Canadians, in their refusal to take tougher positions on accommodation and integration of immigrants, like to think of themselves as exceptionally virtuous, unlike the wicked Americans or Europeans. But are we?” asks Resnick.

“Quebecois are franker in this regard than English Canadians, in regards to both language and the niqab, since their sense of cultural identity is more clearly on the line than our own.

“But I wonder how well Canadian smugness would survive a serious challenge to our core values, of the type that radical Islamism represents in Europe.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Canadians far from resolving not-so-minor niqab issue | Vancouver Sun

Douglas Todd: Niqabs: The paradoxical world of Zunera Ishaq

Interesting interview with Zunera Ishaq, the woman at the heart of the niqab citizenship controversy:

How did it come to pass that the so-called “liberal” media, and prominent Canadian feminists, championed the 29-year-old suburban Toronto woman who insisted on wearing in a civil ceremony one of the world’s most provoking symbols of patriarchy?

What background was missing from the debate over the niqab?

I was able to obtain Ishaq’s responses to some of these questions this week.

Ishaq told me she respects Mulcair and Trudeau for defending her niqab, and for standing for multicultural “choice” and tolerance.

She went out of her way to say she also respects Harper, “who created all the mess. He was following his conscience.”

Our telephone conversation revealed a woman who inhabits a world of paradoxes, which the Oxford Dictionary defines as “seemingly absurd or self-contradictory propositions.”

On one hand, the famous 29-year-old Sunni Muslim sounded libertarian and morally relativistic, emphasizing “every person is free to live in a way in which he or she feels is right.”

On the other hand she also seems the opposite. She is ultraconservative on segregation of the sexes, homosexuality, abortion, obeying Islamic commands and women being “unclean” during menstruation.

As niqabs become more common in Canada — a regular sight on campuses, including the University of B.C. — it’s worth understanding the apparent contradictions associated with defending this stark symbol of gender inequality.

Since Ishaq was often portrayed as standing up for all Muslim women, it’s important to note hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world, and the majority of the 1.1 million Muslims in Canada, disapprove of the niqab.

Ishaq said she respects the many Muslims who disagree with her. That includes the imam at another Metro Toronto mosque who, not knowing she was present, criticized her for insisting on wearing the niqab.

Women rarely wear the niqab in most Muslim-majority countries, where scarves covering the hair or no headdress are more common. Niqabs have been banned in some Muslim countries, because they were used in crimes and terrorist attacks.

Ishaq’s religiously torn homeland of Pakistan, which she and her family were preparing this week to visit, is one of the few countries where Pew Research found support for the niqab, with 32 per cent saying women should cover their faces.

Only a few hardline Muslim leaders, including in Saudi Arabia, require women to wear long black abayas and press for them to cover their faces.

“Saudi Arabia has chosen that law,” Ishaq said, in one of repeated references to the supreme value she places on “choice,” including at the political level.

“I would not say that it’s wrong. I would not say it’s exactly right in Islam. So I would not like to comment.”

She agreed Islamic tradition advocates only personal “modesty.” And she acknowledged nothing in the Qur’an mandates women covering their faces.

“I do not feel that Muslim women who do not wear the niqab are lesser than me. What I’ve done is my choice, another opinion.”

Ishaq also called homosexualitya “choice,” which goes against the predominant understanding among gays and lesbians.

“Being a Muslim, it’s my view that homosexuality is not the right thing. But I have to tolerate it, without discrimination and without hatred. I have no issues with people who are homosexual. That’s their choice. But I definitely do not think it’s right.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Niqabs: The paradoxical world of Zunera Ishaq | Vancouver Sun

Lawyer in niqab case says Canada must confront anti-Muslim sentiment

Good profile of Lorne Waldman, the lawyer for Zunera Ishaq (and a number of other immigration and refugee cases that went against the Conservative government):

For Mr. Waldman, who unexpectedly found himself and his clients at the centre of the election, the e-mail itself was a tipping point: Even though the niqab controversy ended with the victory of Justin Trudeau, who opposed the ban, an undercurrent of anti-Muslim feeling remains, and needs to be confronted.

“I see the seeds of a huge problem that we in Canada have been able to avoid for many years – some of the worst aspects of the anti-immigrant sentiment that’s existed in Europe,” he said in an interview. “And we avoided it for a long time because we had responsible leaders who didn’t try to stir the pot. All we need is another election where someone else chooses to use these types of wedge issues.”

If it was a very good election for the Liberals, it was a strangely eventful one for Mr. Waldman, even by his own busy standards. He represented Zunera Ishaq, a Pakistani immigrant who successfully fought a Conservative ban on wearing a niqab during the citizenship oath. The niqab became a major election issue. He also represented a Canadian-born convicted terrorist facing the loss of his citizenship; the government’s fight against terrorism was another big election issue. And he was a spokesman for a national refugee lawyers’ group on the Syrian refugee crisis – a third key issue – urging that the government speed up the process by emphasizing the reunification of families.

“I’ve never had an experience like this,” said the 63-year-old father of three, who runs an 11-lawyer firm that includes his daughter. “I’ve done lots of high-profile cases but my God …”

The end of the election may have brought him a respite. Getting tough on refugee claimants perceived to be taking advantage of Canada’s laws and social supports was, like crime and terrorism, a major focus for the Conservatives. Last year, Mr. Waldman won a case against the government’s cuts to refugee health care; a Federal Court judge called them “cruel and unusual treatment.” Shortly after the election, the government’s appeal was adjourned. He doesn’t expect the Liberal government to fight the Federal Court ruling.

… Many of his friends, acquaintances and fellow lawyers also opposed his stand on the niqab. Even his sister and mentor, Ontario Family Court Judge Geraldine Waldman, who died of brain cancer on the same day he received the e-mail, disagreed with his stand.

“The last real conversation I had with her about anything political was about the niqab. She was a diehard feminist. She opened the first all-female law practice in Ontario in the seventies with Harriet Sachs, Lynn King and Mary Cornish. She couldn’t get around the niqab.”

Standing up for the niqab surprised even him.

“It was a bit strange, to be honest, to defend the right of a woman to wear the niqab. It’s not one of the things to have high on my list of rights that I would defend. But it had nothing to do with the niqab. It was defending the right of Canadians to express themselves as they saw fit. It was also opposing an abuse of power by the minister who clearly was acting illegally when he issued this policy statement.” (Both the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal pointed to the wording of the Citizenship Act, which says only cabinet can make changes to the citizenship ceremony. Mr. Kenney had simply issued a directive banning the niqab.)

Mr. Waldman comes from a refugee background – two grandparents came to Canada to escape Russian pogroms in the early 1900s. He says he became a refugee lawyer in response to the Jewish experience with anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, which he called “my defining thing.”

“We have pictures at home of all my mother’s uncles and aunts. On my mother’s side there were at least 12 or 13 uncles and aunts. They all had kids and the kids were married, and so we’re talking about probably 80 or 90 people – three survived.”

Source: Lawyer in niqab case says Canada must confront anti-Muslim sentiment – The Globe and Mail

Zunera Ishaq cleared by court to take citizenship oath wearing niqab

Pretty clear that a large part of the motivation for the appeal is political and to keep issue prominent, given the weak legal case (lack of Ministerial authority to implement administratively):

Regulations have banned wearing of face veils at citizenship ceremonies, but Ishaq challenged the rule and won in Federal Court. On Sept. 18, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld that decision in a quick ruling from the bench. The federal government had sought a stay of the ruling and said it intended to appeal to the Supreme Court.

“I am pleased that the courts have reaffirmed my right to citizenship and to vote,” said Ishaq in a written statement issued to CBC News through the law firm of Waldman & Associates.

“I am disappointed with the government’s focus on my individual case when there is so much more that merits the attention of Canadians at this time,” Ishaq said. “I’m also disappointed that Mr. Harper continually twists the facts of my case for his gain.

“I wish to confirm that I will be identified without my veil for the purposes of the ceremony. This has nothing to do with identity and everything to do with my right  — and the right of all Canadians — to think, believe and dress without government interference,” she said.

Before reciting the oath, would-be Canadians are required to provide multiple proofs of identity. Those who wear face coverings must remove them before the ceremony in private before a citizenship official.

Ishaq is one of two women who have refused to unveil before taking the citizenship oath since the Conservatives introduced the policy directive in 2011.

Conservatives ‘disappointed’

Conservative Party spokesman Chris McCluskey told CBC News in an email, “We are disappointed in the court’s decision, especially as we were waiting on the Supreme Court to hear our appeal.

“We have committed to rectifying this matter going forward by introducing legislation that will require one to show their face while swearing the oath of citizenship. Legislation will be introduced within the first 100 days of a re-elected Conservative government.”

“At this point, the Federal Court of Appeal has made a clear statement that there’s no basis to grant them a stay, that they upheld their previous ruling that this case has nothing to do with the niqab,” said Lorne Waldman, Ishaq’s lawyer, in a telephone interview with CBC News.

“It’s an issue from the rule of law, and the minister acted illegally in creating a policy that went contrary to the legislation, and that’s what this case is about.”

The Department of Citizenship and Immigration must formally invite Ishaq to attend a ceremony. Several are scheduled in Ontario between now and the Oct. 19 election.

Source: Zunera Ishaq cleared by court to take citizenship oath wearing niqab – Politics – CBC News

Woman fighting ban on face-covering at citizenship ceremonies gets support from Ontario

Interesting that the Ontario government would take this step (and citizenship is exclusively a federal jurisdiction, unlike immigration which is shared):

The Ontario government is standing alongside a Mississauga, Ont., woman who is challenging the federal government’s ban on face-coverings at citizenship ceremonies.

It has filed its position, called a factum, with the Federal Court of Appeal in advance of a hearing scheduled to begin next week in Ottawa.

The province argues that requiring a Muslim woman to remove her niqab during the public oath-taking ceremony “with the result that if she does not she cannot become a Canadian citizen, fails to respect and accommodate the diversity of religious beliefs and socio-cultural backgrounds of Canadians.”

The factum goes on to say the government’s policy “tells Muslim women that if they wear the niqab, they are not welcome to join the Canadian community.”

The province is also of the view that “visual inspection of a person’s face does not prove that the person has actually spoken the words of the oath or affirmation. The proof is already provided by the existing requirement that citizenship candidates sign a certificate certifying they have taken the oath or affirmation.”

Source: Woman fighting ban on face-covering at citizenship ceremonies gets support from Ontario – Politics – CBC News

Niqab Politics Commentary – Various

Starting with Margaret Wente:

I loathe the niqab. I agree with Prime Minister Stephen Harper that niqabs are “not how we do things here.” A cloth that covers the face is a symbolic rebuke to Western values – especially when the covered woman is walking three steps behind her jeans-and-sneakers-clad husband.

But I also think a woman has the right to choose – even when her choice is offensive to a lot of people. I believe that religious freedom is a cornerstone of Western values. People should have wide latitude to exercise that freedom as they wish, and we shouldn’t constrain them without very good reasons.

So if Zunera Ishaq, a devout Sunni Muslim from Pakistan, wants to wear a veil while she swears the oath of citizenship, let her. Our democracy has survived greater threats than that.

…I despise niqabs. I really, really do. But I despise attacks on people’s freedom even more. There’s a difference between a woman in a veil and a jihadi sawing off a head. We need to remember that.

Why Stephen Harper is playing niqab politics – The Globe and Mail.

Stephen Maher focusses more on the politics:

The best way to counter the online recruiters who prey on those weak-minded souls is not to set up a mosque inquisition, as Mr. Legault proposed, but to build good relations with the imams who are on the front lines of anti-radicalization efforts.

We need these guys to drop a dime when they’re worried that Ahmed has gone off his meds, and they’re less likely to do that if they feel their community is under attack.

This is a good time to lower the temperature and remind Canadians of what draws us together, not constantly point to the things that divide us.

But Mr. Legault, like Mr. Harper, risks bitter defeat in the next election. So both men are playing with fire, trying to capitalize on fear, the most powerful emotion in politics.

And it is working. Recent polls show the Tories’ tough-on-terror message connecting in Ontario and, especially, Quebec, opening a ray of hope for a government that until recently looked doomed.

That’s fair play, but I’m worried that Mr. Harper will add fuel to the fire, linking terrorism to mosques — as he did when he introduced C-51 — inveighing against niqabs in fundraising emails and scaring everyone by warning about “jihadist monsters” at every opportunity.

Mr. Harper’s back is to the wall. If he loses the next election, or even fails to win it convincingly, his career is likely over.

Since oil prices collapsed, the economy is not the political winner it once was, leaving fear as his best issue.

Things could get ugly between now and the election.

  Stephen Maher: Tough talk about Muslims by Canadian politicians is unnecessary  

And Andrew Coyne issues a further warning:

On the surface, the insistence of Obama and other leaders that “this has nothing to do with Islam,” would seem as odd as that of their critics, that it has everything to do with Islam. As David Frum writes on the Atlantic website, “it seems a strange use of authority for an American president to take it upon himself to determine which interpretations of Islam are orthodox and which are heretical.” But there is a strong case for saying such things, even if you don’t believe them — especially if you don’t believe them — precisely in the service of fighting terrorism.

The one thing that could be predicted to cause more Muslims, here and abroad, to believe that violence against the West was justified would be if they were to become convinced that, indeed, there is “a clash of civilizations,” that Islam was under attack, and that they themselves, as practitioners of the religion, were objects of suspicion and hostility. The phenomenon is often observed in other social groups that, rightly or wrongly, feel themselves besieged: they will close ranks, even with those with whom they might otherwise have no sympathy.

That would be a calamitous setback to efforts, largely successful, to win the cooperation of the Muslim community in rooting out the few radicals in their midst. Which takes us to the rhetoric of the Harper government. Merely referring to “Islamic extremism” or “jihadism” would be unobjectionable in itself. But when coupled with recent, needless interventions in such volatile debates as whether the niqab may be worn at citizenship ceremonies, it suggests at best a troubling indifference to the importance of symbols and the need for those in power to go out of their way to reassure those in minority groups that they have not been targeted.

It may be good politics. But they are playing with fire.

Violent extremism or jihadism: The case for watching our language on terror

Lastly, Salim Mansur’s efforts to compare Indian religious and cultural practice restrictions doesn’t work: there is a difference between bigamy, child marriage, concubinage, FGM, which directly impact upon the rights of others or impact on the health of the person, unlike the wearing of a niqab.

The only valid comparison is that with other religious closing and headgear accommodations  (which the niqab is) and other dress code conventions (i.e., one cannot demand government services or attend a citizenship ceremony full or partially naked).

But we need to compare apples with apples, not oranges:

The same week the Federal Court ruled the niqab ban unlawful, India’s Supreme Court ruled that bigamy and polygamy is not protected under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, which refers to freedom of conscience and religion. The justices of the Indian Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the appellant, Khursheed Ahmad Khan, in taking a second wife while remaining married to his first wife, violated the civil service regulations that do not permit bigamy and polygamy as part of religious belief. The justices agreed a “bigamous marriage amongst Muslims is neither a religious practice nor a religious belief and certainly not a religious injunction or mandate.”

The relevant point here is that certain practices — such as bigamy or child marriage, concubinage, female genital mutilation, etc. — even when permitted by a religion, need to be distinguished from religious belief as customary practices. In making this appropriate distinction, the Indian courts have ruled, with the Supreme Court in agreement, that what is protected under Article 25 is religious belief, not practices that may run counter to public order, health or morality.

This ruling of the Indian Supreme Court is instructive. India shares with Canada the system of government and democratic traditions handed down from Britain. India is also the world’s third-largest Muslim country after Indonesia and Pakistan. In ruling that bigamy and polygamy are in violation of India’s laws, the courts have defended the rights of women, especially Muslim women, in terms of equality rights, and against Muslim Shariah-based laws that discriminate against them in favour of men.

Canadian courts would be well advised to make a similar and appropriate distinction between religious beliefs and customary practices, and whether any or all customs should be protected under the Charter provision of religious freedom.

Salim Mansur: Defending the niqab ban

Contrasting Commentary: Barbara Kay vs Clifford Orwin and Marnie Soupcoff on the Niqab and Citizenship Ceremonies

Barbara Kay supporting the Government:

But Ms Bakht’s specious parallel has the virtue that it can be turned against its perpetrator. If a woman were to turn up at her citizenship swearing-in ceremony in a bikini, would she be allowed to? I think not. And rightly so. Bikinis on a beach are one thing – in a solemn ceremony quite another. Indecency swings both ways. Face cover is also indecent in certain situations, such as the swearing-in of a woman to citizenship in a democratic country based on, amongst other principles, gender equality. (I consider the niqab indecent in all getting and giving of government services. If the federal government would pass a law requiring the face be uncovered in these areas, as Quebec soon will, Canadians would approve en masse.)

Perhaps Ms Ishaq might give some thought to the reality that thousands upon thousands of Pakistani people wish to become citizens of Canada, but one does not see Canadians flocking to Pakistan to live. There are reasons for that. One of those reasons is that women here are equal to men, and nobody can tell a woman here that she must cover her face. One might think that Ms Ishaq would wish to honour that right, on behalf of her sisters who are forced to wear the niqab, by taking hers off for the five minutes it will take to accept the gift of great value our government wishes to confer on her.

Barbara Kay: Zunera Ishaq does a disservice to women forced to wear the veil

Marnie Soupcoff opposing:

Is the government’s quarrel with the niqab is that it represents a patriarchal practice it believes diminishes women’s autonomy and, ultimately, safety?

That seems to be what Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander was getting at when he said while commenting on the case, “We also are a government, and I think a people, that is concerned about protecting women from violence, protecting women from human smuggling, protecting women from barbaric practices like polygamy, genital mutilation, honour killings.”

Quite apart from the dramatic leap from a legal piece of clothing to the commission of major crimes, which seems to lack some clear thinking on causation vs. correlation, Mr. Alexander is treading on dangerous ground, at least if he plans to be consistent and even-handed.

The ultra-Orthodox Jewish tradition has married women wear wigs or otherwise cover their hair in public, and all women wear long sleeves and skirts below the knees, to maintain their modesty and de-emphasize their sexual attractiveness to anyone but their husbands.

The rules about women’s dress are but one expression of the tradition’s emphasis on female purity and deference, which also includes a wife’s duty to always accept her husband’s sexual advances on his terms.

In Israel, concerns about sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community are significant, and rabbis are accused of participating in cover-ups.

So shouldn’t Mr. Alexander and Mr. Harper also be addressing the offensiveness of the wigs and long skirts being worn by Orthodox women taking their citizenship oaths? And if they’re not, does that mean they’re endorsing the antiquated sexist idea that a woman who shows a stranger man her elbows is engaging in brazen sexual temptation?

Of course the answer is no. No, they shouldn’t, and no, it doesn’t.

Concerns about what cultural, religious and social signals are being sent by an individual’s choice in clothing should have no place in lawmakers’ minds, or at least not in their actions.

The very beauty of Canadian citizenship is that it comes with the freedom to choose your own way and your own life. Does the majority of society have to agree with your choice, whether it be to don a nun’s habit or a Wiccan pentagram necklace?

The obvious answer again is no, so long as you aren’t infringing on anyone else’s freedom with your decision. And apologies to Mr. Harper and Mr. Alexander, but their freedom not to be offended doesn’t count.

Marni Soupcoff: Tories vs. religious freedom

Along with a former prof of mine, Clifford Orwin:

You may ask whether Islam truly requires that a woman wear the niqab. This is none of a liberal state’s business; it is for Muslims to decide for themselves. But they won’t agree, and even if most did, liberal democracy rejects the imposition of religious authority. So this is nobody’s call but Ms. Ishaq’s. Like every citizen, she must be free to practise her religion not as we see fit, but as she does. This isn’t a question of “accommodation” or “diversity” or any such currently fashionable lingo: It’s a requirement of religious freedom, one of the first and most basic of liberal democratic principles.

The worst thing about Mr. Harper’s position is its implication that Ms. Ishaq can’t be a good Canadian unless she discards a practice she regards as incumbent on her as a Muslim and which is entirely harmless to others. I’m not about to claim that the biggest problem facing Canadian society is Islamophobia. (In fact, it has shown itself remarkably free of such attitudes.) The threat of Islamist terror poses a much bigger problem to Canada, as to other liberal democracies. But aggravating the lesser problem in no way helps to solve this greater problem. We shouldn’t hand devout Muslims legitimate (and wholly gratuitous) grievances. Nor (it should go without saying) should we practise demagoguery at their expense.

 Stephen Harper’s veiled attack on religious freedom 

Zunera Ishaq on why she fought to wear a niqab during citizenship ceremony: ‘A personal attack on me and Muslim women’

Hard to understand but clearly confident in expressing her views:

There are a few things Zunera Ishaq wants to set straight about the veil she wears in public.

Nobody is forcing her to cover up, she says. It is a “personal choice” and a way to assert her identity and show her devotion to her Muslim faith.

There is nothing oppressive, either, about wearing a niqab. If anything, it is a “symbol of empowerment.”

This conviction emboldened the former high school teacher from Pakistan to postpone attending her citizenship ceremony last year and go toe-to-toe with the Harper government over its policy forbidding the wearing of facial coverings during the swearing-in part of the ceremony.

“I gathered the courage and decided to speak out,” said the 29-year-old Mississauga, Ont., resident in an extended conversation with the National Post this weekend. “I decided to raise my voice so that I can challenge this policy, which was a personal attack on me and Muslim women like me.”

Of course, someone claiming the right, male or female, to appear naked in a citizenship ceremony, given their religious beliefs, would be the mirror image of the right to be fully covered up.

Zunera Ishaq on why she fought to wear a niqab during citizenship ceremony: ‘A personal attack on me and Muslim women’ | National Post.

Niqab appeal by Ottawa is questioned over motivation

CIC Minister Alexander trying up to come up with a convincing rationale for the niqab ban bit mixing up the niqab at citizenship ceremonies with domestic violence issues (which are not, needless to say, unique to niqabi women) is clumsy.

PM is more convincing when he spoke about the symbolism of “joining the Canadian family,” as niqab signals separation, not integration, in a way that other religious symbols (hijab, kippa, kirpan) do not:

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, who was named as the respondent in Ishaq’s case, said Friday that people need to be identified and need to “commit to the oath.”

“We also are a government, and I think a people, that is concerned about protecting women from violence, protecting women from human smuggling, protecting women from barbaric practices like polygamy, genital mutilation, honour killings,” Alexander said.

“I worry when some of those defending the idea of keeping a woman behind a niqab in a citizenship ceremony are also those who say that we don’t need these protections for women from violence and from abuse. It’s something we’re all passionate about in Canada, there is no place for violence against women or any domestic violence in this country.”

Alexander said not showing your face is not a requirement of Islam and the “vast majority” of Muslim groups have said the 2011 law in question is fair and does not violate their freedom of religion.

Amira Elghawaby, human rights coordinator at the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said many Muslims and Canadians disagree with the idea of the niqab, but if it’s someone’s sincere religious belief, the right to wear one is a legal matter protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

New Canadians take the oath of citizenship at a ceremony in Dartmouth, N.S. in 2014. A Federal Court ruling that women who wear a niqab do not have to remove it to take the oath is being appealed by the federal government. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

“Our opinions about these things really are irrelevant, what’s important is what it means to be Canadian and what it means to have freedom of religion and consciousness in this country,” she said.

“I think that unanimously, people who understand our Charter of Rights understand that this is a right that should be protected. She is not harming anyone by deciding to keep her niqab on … and whether I agree in it or not, I do not have the right to tell her to remove it because the law does not support that and the constitution does not support that.”

NCCM forgets that freedom of religion, like other fundamental freedoms, is not absolute.

Niqab appeal by Ottawa is questioned over motivation – Politics – CBC News.

The muted reaction of other political parties:

Federal opposition parties trod carefully Friday on the issue of whether a Toronto Muslim woman should be allowed to wear a niqab while taking the oath of citizenship.

NDP multiculturalism critic Andrew Cash said the Conservative government was conflating matters of security and ceremony by appealing a court decision permitting the woman to wear the facial covering.

“It’s unfortunate that in matters of ceremonial issues, Conservatives are willing to play partisan politics to simply ratchet things up to win votes,” Mr. Cash said.

Liberal immigration critic John McCallum said that the matter is before the courts. And party spokesman Cameron Ahmad said that “the responsibility to present the case falls on the government.”

Neither party would say outright whether it backed Zunera Ishaq’s bid to keep her face covered during the swearing-in portion of the ceremony.

Federal opposition parties tread carefully on issue of niqabs during citizenship oath

Woman asks to be sworn in as citizen as soon as possible after overturn of policy requiring her to remove niqab

No freedom is absolute, including freedom of religion, and the judge’s example of a monk not willing to break his silence to state the oath doesn’t wash and doesn’t merit accommodation. People are free to make choices, choices often have trade-offs.

It is one of the requirements of living in The policy didn’t sit well with Ms. Ishaq, a Pakistani national and devout Sunni Muslim, who says her religious beliefs obligate her to wear a niqab. While she did not object to unveiling herself in private so that an official could confirm her identity before taking the citizenship test, she drew a line at unveiling herself at the public citizenship ceremony.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim for National PostZunera Ishaq stands for a portrait in her home in Mississauga on Wednesday February 11, 2015.

“I feel that the governmental policy regarding veils at citizenship oath ceremonies is a personal attack on me, my identity as a Muslim woman and my religious beliefs,” she told the court.

Her lawyers also pointed out that while the Citizenship Act requires people to take the oath, it does not require them to be “seen” taking the oath.

She rejected a government offer to seat her at the front or back of the ceremony so her face would not easily be seen.

In a ruling last week, Judge Keith Boswell said the government’s own regulations require that citizenship judges administer the citizenship oath “with dignity and solemnity, allowing the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or the solemn affirmation thereof.” How is this possible, Judge Boswell asked, if a policy requires citizenship candidates to “violate or renounce a basic tenet of their religion?”

“For instance, how could a citizenship judge afford a monk who obeys strict rules of silence the ‘greatest possible freedom’ in taking the oath if he is required to betray his discipline and break his silence?” he wrote.

The government had argued that the policy was not mandatory and that citizenship judges were free to apply it or not.

But the judge cited internal department emails stating that it was “pretty clear that [the Minister] would like the changes to the procedure to ‘require’ citizenship candidates to show their face … regardless of whether there is a legislative base.”

The judge also cited a media interview in which Mr. Kenney said it was “ridiculous” that a face should be covered during the citizenship oath.

Woman asks to be sworn in as citizen as soon as possible after overturn of policy requiring her to remove niqab

And further faulty reasoning in the National Post editorial:

Lawfulness aside, the probation was always on weak footing both on practical and moral grounds. There are cases where security or identification concerns rightfully trump the religious practice: for example, when taking a driver’s license photo or going through airport security. Muslim women are also sometimes required — on a case-by-case basis — to remove their veils while testifying in court, thereby allowing a defendant to face his or her accuser. No such practical justification has been offered for banning the niqab during a largely symbolic swearing-in ritual.

To be sure, Canadian society is predicated on the concept of equality for all — regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation and so forth — and it’s difficult to reconcile that fundamental value with the custom of members of one sex obscuring their faces in public. Nevertheless, Muslim women in Canada are free to wear — or not to wear — a niqab while shopping at the grocery store, teaching a lecture or simply walking down the street. To prohibit them from wearing a face covering during a citizenship oath is as illiberal in its way as requiring them to wear one. It is an arbitrary application of a pointless ban, and the court was right to strike it down.

National Post View: Court was right to strike down niqab ban during citizenship ceremony

Not surprisingly, the Government will appeal the ruling. Not by accident, PM Harper makes announcement rather than CIC Minister Alexander, in Quebec, as noted by John Ivison: Harper’s ‘offence’ at niqab ruling part of larger strategy to steal Quebec from the NDP):

Speaking at an event in Quebec on Thursday, Harper said the government intends 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,” he said in Victoriaville, Que. “This is a society that is transparent, open, and where people are equal.”

Harper says Ottawa will appeal ruling allowing veil during citizenship oath