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. “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.
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.
Citizenship and immigration officials will be asking that “all those taking the oath do so openly,” Kenney said, describing it as a “deep principle that goes to the heart of our values.”
“When did the state have to start deciding what a religious obligation [is] or how a person expresses their faith?” Shahina Siddiqui, president and executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association Inc. in Winnipeg, told CBC News. “Are we going to now have Mr Kenney give religious rulings on what is Islamic and what is not?”
Siddiqui said the ban is discriminatory and does not reflect Canadian values like diversity and tolerance. “It’s basically saying, ‘If you wear a veil, you cannot be a citizen.’ That’s the message for us loud and clear,” she said. “What will they do with women who were born and raised here who take the veil? How are you going to strip them of their citizenship?”
Update: See “Slight of Muslim women is cynical politics”, Edmonton Journal, 13 December 2011