ISLAMIC SHARIA LAW-COMPLIANT Federal Court of Canada has ruled that it is “unlawful” for Ottawa to order Muslim women who want to become citizens to remove their full face-covering headbags when taking the oath of Canadian citizenship.
The Star The federal government must immediately lift its existing ban allowing Toronto’s Zunera Ishaq to reschedule a new citizenship ceremony unless it appeals the ruling and receives the permission to suspend the order, the Federal Court said in a decision released Friday.
I believe people taking the public Oath of Citizenship should do so publicly, w/ their faces uncovered. Do you agree? http://t.co/5UxKm2sMKe
— Jason Kenney ن (@kenneyjason) October 17, 2014
While it is not unusual to have government policies overturned in breach of Charter and constitutional rights, the court ruling is unusual because the decision was based on the finding that the ban mandated by the immigration minister violated the government’s own immigration laws.
“To the extent that the policy interferes with a citizenship judge’s duty to allow candidates for citizenship the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or the solemn affirmation of the oath,” wrote Justice Keith M. Boswell, “it is unlawful.” Ishaq was sponsored by her husband to Canada from Pakistan in 2008 and successfully passed the citizenship test in November 2013.
She was scheduled to be sworn in at a citizenship ceremony in Scarborough two months later but decided to put it on hold after learning she would need to unveil her niqab under a ban introduced in 2011 by then-Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. Her Charter challenge ensued.
Ishaq, who started wearing niqab since she was 15, had no objection to unveil herself for the purposes of her identification before taking the citizenship test. However, she objected to the requirement to remove the veil at the citizenship ceremony because it is public and unnecessary for the purposes of identity or security.
Immigration officials subsequently offered to seat her in either the front or back row and next to a woman at the ceremony, but she refused the arrangement since the citizenship judge and officers could still be male, and there could potentially be photographers at the event.
In refuting the government’s argument that the court challenge was premature because Ishaq’s scheduled ceremony had yet to happen, the court said part of the reason policies are published is so that people can know of them and organize their affairs accordingly.
“The policy in this case could be dissuading women who wear a full-face covering headbag from even applying for citizenship (And that would be BAD thing because why?). In such circumstances, a direct challenge to the policy is appropriate,” the 42-page decision said.
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander’s spokesperson said they “will keep all available legal options open.
“New citizens are obliged to confirm their identity when taking the Oath of Citizenship, which is sworn or affirmed in public,” said Kevin Menard. “It is simply common sense to require removal of facial coverings or other items that hide new citizens’ mouths from view. The oath, knowledge and language tests, as well as years of residency, are among the basic requirements for joining the family of Canadian citizens.”