OTTAWA – Next week Canadian’s will take to the poll’s in order to determine the latest Government for their country. The federal elections, which have been described as the most important in recent history, have so far been portrayed as intensely close between the countries three leading parties: the ruling Conservatives, the liberal democrats and the new democrats.
Like most of the Western world, topics such as women’s rights, the environment and the economy seem to be chairing the debates of the up and coming election. However, one topic in particular has dominated the headlines. Back in 2011, the Canadian Government introduced a ban on the niqab in citizenship ceremonies; meaning that when one wishes to take their citizenship oath, they are unable to wear the fully covering facial veil. Initiated by Prime Minister Steven Harper, the ban was intended to uphold “true Canadian values” in a ceremony that would grant a wishful individual a Canadian citizenship. However, the law has recently been defiantly challenged by one particular woman, Zunera Ishaq, arguing that it violated her rights. Earlier this year, she partook in a campaign of suing the Government, and won it. Despite their failed appeal the following September, Harper and his government are not letting go of the issue. Using it as prime material for their election campaign trail, the Canadian conservatives have insisted on taking the fight to the Supreme Court.
Such an approach – which Harper argues is about standing up for Canadian values and against a culture that is rooted in being “anti-women” – has faced a notable backlash. Many critics are arguing that his response to the issue is encouraging fear and an increase in islamophobia, as well we distracting voters from the real issues the country is facing.
Becoming a permanent resident of Canada in 2008, Ishaq is a teacher who is married to her chemical engineer husband of 9 years. The pair have four children together. Emigrating from Pakistan, where she was a student of English Literature, Ishaq was born and raised in the very liberal society of Lahore. Here, she likewise faced significant negativity towards her decision to wear a veil.
She believes that Harper’s ministers “weren’t clear in their minds” when they initially objected to her wearing her veil in the ceremony. Such an argument from Ishaq could prove to be right, as leaked emails which surfaced in the Canadian press show civil servants in Kenny’s government warning him that the ban on the veil could very well be illegal. To which they were essentially told to “shut-up” and continue to implement the policy.
Yet they may be heading for an unwinnable battle. Speaking recently, Ishaq told reporters, “I am going to fight on for the right to wear the veil. I am 90 per cent certain I will win and if I don’t, I will also appeal.”
– Izzy Lyons, Correspondent (Politics)