citizenship ceremonies now include islamophobia

Last week I learned citizenship ceremonies now include militarism. This week I learn they also include Islamophobia. I'm grateful I became a citizen before this hateful bullshit started.
Face veils banned for citizenship oaths

The government is placing a ban on face coverings such as niqabs for people swearing their oath of citizenship, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Monday.

The ban takes effect immediately.

As a result, Muslim women will have to remove their niqabs or any other face-covering garments, such as burkas, before they can recite the oath of citizenship to become Canadians. Citizenship judges will be directed to enforce the rules at ceremonies over which they preside.

It's a "public declaration that you are joining the Canadian family and it must be taken freely and openly," he said, calling it "frankly, bizarre" that women were allowed to wear face veils while they swear their citizenship oaths.

Kenney said he doesn't accept that it's a religious obligation to wear the veil, explaining that when Muslim women perform the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca required by their faith, they are required not to cover their faces.

"It's a cultural tradition, which I think reflects a certain view about women that we don't accept in Canada. We want women to be full and equal members of Canadian society and certainly when they're taking the citizenship oath, that's the right place to start," Kenney said in an interview on CBC News Network.

Complaints from citizenship court judges

A directive posted on the department's website says if candidates aren't seen taking the oath, officials are to explain that they must be seen reciting it, and that they can't become Canadian citizens without it. They can return for the next citizenship ceremony, but "the opportunity to return to take the oath at another citizenship ceremony applies only once," the directive says.

Women who choose not to remove their face coverings can remain permanent residents, Kenney told CBC's Evan Solomon, host of Power & Politics. The citizenship oath is the last step before going from permanent residency to citizenship. Permanent residents can live in Canada but can't vote or run for office.

Kenney said he's had complaints from MPs and citizenship court judges that it's hard to tell whether people with their faces covered are actually reciting the oath of citizenship, which he says is a requirement to become Canadian. Wladyslaw Lizon, a Conservative MP from Mississauga, Ont., brought it to his attention, Kenney says. [emphasis added]

. . .

"I thought it was absurd from beginning to end," said Julia Williams, the human rights and civil liberties officer for CAIR-Can.

She said Kenney's argument that Islam does not require women to wear the niqab defies their charter rights.

"In Canada we also have religious freedom which is enshrined in the charter, and so long as she is not harming someone by her actions, she should be allowed to dress as she sees fit," Williams said.

"I can't think of anything more damaging to women's equality and women's rights than removing their freedom of choice. So I think it was an easy political point to score and at the expense of a vulnerable group of women."
My response so far, sent to my MP with a copy to Jason Kenney. More will follow.
Mr. Lizon:

I am a constituent in your riding, and I was deeply disappointed to see your name linked with bigotry and intolerance. A news story about the new ban on the wearing of niqabs in citizenship ceremonies said that you suggested this change to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney.

There is no rational reason to force a woman to reveal more of herself than she is comfortable doing, or to force someone to violate religious precepts, in order to become a Canadian citizen. You may not like the niqab, Mr. Kenney may not like the niqab – I may not like the niqab. But our preferences are irrelevant. Canadians are supposed to enjoy freedom of religion and freedom of expression. A Muslim woman who wears a niqab has the same rights as a Jewish man who wears a yarmulke or a Catholic woman who wears a crucifix.

The only reason to ban the wearing of niqabs at a citizenship ceremony is bigotry. It is exactly that kind of bigotry that leads to incidents like the one that took place in the Sheridan Centre mall last summer. Mr. Kenney’s new regulation is a signal to intolerant people that such bigotry is accepted in Canada, and that Muslims in particular may be targetted for hatred.

As you well know, Canada is a multicultural country founded by immigrants. Immigrants and their descendants form the core of the Canadian population. Exclusion based on religious or cultural practices has no place in Canada – and certainly not at a citizenship ceremony.

I became a Canadian citizen in June of 2010. I’m glad this ban was not in place at the time. I would have been ashamed to participate in my own ceremony.


Laura Kaminker, etc.


johngoldfine said...

That's a good letter! I agree with all of it. As you say, our preferences and opinions are irrelevant.

"In Canada we also have religious freedom which is enshrined in the charter, and so long as she is not harming someone by her actions, she should be allowed to dress as she sees fit," Williams said.

That jumped out at me, though, because of the not-harming-anyone qualification. As you know, there are arguments raised against infant male circumcision, based on the fact that the infant can't give consent and the presumption that harm is being done.

I can never decide in this argument whether religious custom/medical advice trumps the apparent barbarism or not. Oddly, and perhaps this is where my prejudices surface, I have no doubt whatsoever about female genital mutilation: unacceptable anywhere, ever.

laura k said...

Thank you, John.

FGM is completely different, as you rightly say, as it violates basic human rights and the victim has no choice. Similar cultural arguments cannot be allowed for slavery, child labour, domestic violence, or so-called "honour" killings. This is not prejudice or bias. We shouldn't allow religious or culture to be used as a smokescreen for cruelty.

But a veil over the face? The subtext here is the ridiculous pretense that Jason Kenney cares about women's rights! Of course he does not - he's virulently anti-choice. But in a bit of Orwellian logic, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism (those last words are new to this Conservative government) is a xenophobe and an Islamaphobe.

allan said...

Shorter Lizon/Kenney:

"We believe women should have full rights, so we are taking away some of their rights."

johngoldfine said...


Nothing new here for USAian readers of wmtc, but, were I not a reader, it would probably be a revelation because it's not as if, no offense, anyone in the USA is actually paying any attention to your Canadian doings.

laura k said...

John, thanks very much for that link. Look at the first example: war resisters!