Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Sunday he disagrees with a decision to allow Muslim women to wear veils covering their faces when they vote.
Elections Canada – an independent body that oversees national elections – said last week that Muslim women will be allowed to wear veils when they vote in by-elections later this month in Quebec, where the issue of the traditional covering has been hotly contested.
The decision means women who wear niqabs – which cover the entire face except for the eyes – or a burqa, an all-covering body veil, can bring a photo ID or another document proving their identity when they vote in the Quebec elections.
Harper said he “profoundly disagrees” with the decision and noted all four parties in Parliament this past spring voted to bring in a new law requiring visual identification of voters. “That’s the purpose of the law,” said Harper, speaking to reporters following an international summit in Sydney, Australia. ‘That was a law adopted virtually unanimously by Parliament. I think this decision goes in an entirely different direction,’ he said.
Harper said he hopes Elections Canada reconsiders, “but in the meantime, if that doesn’t happen, Parliament will have to consider what actions it’s going to take to make sure that its intentions are put into place.”
The decision comes after the Quebec’s chief election officer required Muslim women to show their faces in order to be allowed to vote in a provincial election. The decision was condemned by Muslim groups who said it forced women to decide whether to adhere to their religious beliefs or violate their faith and vote.
The by-elections – which typically occur when a Parliament members leaves their seat early – will be held on Sept. 17 in three different districts in Quebec.
The issue of the Muslim veil has repeatedly come up in the province, which is predominantly Catholic. In February, an 11-year-old Muslim girl participating in a soccer tournament in Quebec was pulled off the field after she refused to remove her headscarf.