Defense Minister Jason Kenney took the strange step of invoking a comparison with Sharia law in an online debate over the legality of a ban on niqabs during the swearing of oaths at citizenship ceremonies.
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 (@jkenney) October 17, 2014
iPolitics Coming the day after Prime Minister Stephen Harper extended an unprecedented invitation to Muslim Canadians to break their Ramadan fast at 24 Sussex, the comment appears unlikely to help heal any divisions created by the government’s pursuit of a ban on face coverings at the ceremonies.
The exchange began late Monday night on Twitter, with Kenney touting the religious diversity of members on the government’s new Religious Freedom Advisory Committee. Twitter users almost immediately hit back at the minister, asking how he can be committed to religious freedom but willing to force women to remove a religious garment before becoming citizens.
One of the users, ex-CSIS operative and counter-extremism expert Mubin Shaikh, said: “Very respectfully, sir: U know full well that the choice of veil in public spaces is protected in Law.”
Kenney tweeted back, “What law would that be? Certainly not under shariah law during the very public Haj, when hiding one’s face is prohibited.”
That comment quickly sparked some angry replies, including criticism of Kenney for the timing of his tweet.
— Dave Belyea (@ve5rb) June 23, 2015
Kenney’s spokeswoman, Lauren Armstrong, said in an email that the minister has said repeatedly over the past several years that it is not a religious obligation to be always veiled in public — and in the absence of a religious obligation there’s no merit in framing the debate around wearing a niqab while swearing a citizenship oath as a matter of religious freedom.
“That was the point conveyed in his Twitter posting, that the Koran itself forbids face coverings in certain public settings, a point made to the Minister by many Canadian Muslims who object to this being disingenuously framed as a religious freedom question,” Armstrong said. “It is wrong to conflate an obscure cultural tradition that is derived from the treatment of women as property rather than people with a bona fide religious freedom claim.”
The continued debate over the niqab comes less than a week after the government introduced a bill — likely doomed to die on the order paper once the election writ drops — that would ban the wearing of the niqab during citizenship ceremonies.
Critics, including the National Council of Canadian Muslims, have panned the bill as a cynical move to manufacture an election-year wedge issue.
“It is very disheartening that our government is spending so much time and effort to revive what is essentially a manufactured issue which appears to be being used for political purposes,” Ihsaan Gardee, the NCCM’s executive director, said in a press release after the bill was announced.
While the government’s 2015 legislation, the Oath of Citizenship Act, is unlikely to become law, the government has said it was introduced to give Canadians a sense of what the Harper government’s legislative agenda would be if it were re-elected.