Andrew Coyne and Naheed Nenshi on the Niqab Issue

Never have I been more impressed with Andrew Coyne than I was this morning. He has written a very intelligent and, to my mind, absolutely correct analysis of this wedge issue which the Tories have now injected into the federal election campaign. I commend it to you, on the National Post webpage.

I note that the first National Post headline on their website was: “ To uncover or not to uncover: Why the niqab issue is ridiculous… and dangerous.” It was then edited to cut the reference to “dangerous.” Too bad! A state ban on how a person chooses to express his or her religious practice in circumstances where there is no evidence of demonstrable harm is a very dangerous precedent. Are we going to reopen the long-since decided kirpan debate?

No more respected a politician than Calgary’s Mayor, Naheed Nenshi, said as much in a recent interview with Evan Solomon. You can read the story and full interview, also on the National Post webpage.

I should add that the predominant opinion at the Up For Debate women’s event last week agreed with Elizabeth May, Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair: that the Harper government has raised this issue solely as a distraction. For the state to let an individual wear her veil during the citizenship ceremony (after she establishes her identity in private) is no more an endorsement of her religious or cultural views than it is of any other distinctive religious dress. The state has no business dictating how women, or anyone for that matter, should dress, absent demonstrable harm. Similarly, absent demonstrable harm, does anyone really want the state interfering with how people express their religious beliefs? 

Apparently, in Quebec, there is pending legislation which would limit wearing the veil when providing government services. A friend whom I admire greatly says that, in the context of government services, the veil may be intimidating to recipients, or it may prevent a recipient from knowing the identity of someone who has done something wrong. On the other hand, many practices seem intimidating because they are unfamiliar or foreign. The problem of not knowing who has provided inadequate or inappropriate service could be resolved by the wearing of name tags. In principle, empirical data should exist to document the real existence of the perceived harm or harms the law is intended to address. Without such proof, the Supreme Court of Canada would likely declare any such law unconstitutional.

But I digress. Even my friend concedes there is no harm in wearing a veil during a citizenship ceremony, and that the issue in that context is no more than a partisan ploy. The Harper government has made a political scapegoat out of Zunera Ishaq, as it did out of Omar Khadr (more on that in another post), to fan the flames of xenophobia. In my view, it does no credit to Harper, his government, or the country.

It strikes me that recent polls showing that most Canadians favour Harper’s stand on this issue are like those polls where the majority once embraced the Anti-Terrorism Law. Once Canadians were alerted to the issues and the problems with the legislation, they became much more sceptical. Read Andrew Coyne and follow the advice of Naheed Nenshi.

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