In Defence of Mulcair’s Stance on the Niqab

The primary purpose
of this blog is to allow me to explore philosophical issues in a
relaxed way: I do not struggle overmuch with research or even making
a specific point, instead I take my posts as an opportunity to
explore interesting ideas outside of the rigor of academic
philosophy. This post, however, is going to be a little bit
different. I have been paying a great deal of attention to the
upcoming election, and I have decided to write a researched
examination of Mulcair’s support of the September 15th
Federal Court’s ruling that the Conservative legislation that
citizenship oaths must be taken with face uncovered violated the
Citizenship Act (link
to article
, link
to Citizenship Act
). I will note that I do not think that the
niqab should be an election deciding issue, but, if this
poll is to be believed, 82% of Canadians disagree with Mulcair (and
myself) on whether it should be permitted in citizenship ceremonies,
so the topic is certainly worth exploring.

I will begin by
examining the recent history of the niqab in Canadian politics
leading up to Mulcair declaring support for the court ruling, after
which I will explore the ethics involved in the discussion. In 2011,
conservative immigration minister Jason Kenney implemented a ban on
face coverings during citizenship ceremonies (link),
on the basis that citizenship ceremonies are ‘public declaration that
you are joining the Canadian family and it must be taken freely and
openly.’ This ban was challenged in 2014 by Zunera Ishaq. Ishaq was
willing to remove her niqab in a private ceremony, but did not want
to be forced to remove it in a public ceremony (wiki
, bottom of article). Though I have not thoroughly verified
this, the wiki article also says that roughly 100 people are affected
a year by the head covering ban. The Federal Court ruled in Ishaq’s
favour and overturned the conservative law against the niqab on the
basis that it violated the Citizenship act. The conservative
government appealed, but the Court of Appeal upheld the Federal
Court’s initial decision. Reaching the end of this story, the topic
of the Niqab then arose in the french leadership debate on September
24th, in which Mulcair declared his support for the court
(‘the courts have spoken’, and ‘They’re there to defend your rights,
including freedom of religion’, link)
and the court’s ruling (‘let me be clear: No one has the right to
tell a woman what she must — or must not — wear.’ link).
This, apparently, has led to a significant shift of support away from
the NDP, especially in Quebec. As I have already linked above, the
polls suggest that Canadians almost universally side with the
conservatives on this issue (again, 82%).

Though there are
certainly some details left to be filled in, I think this is a fairly
complete account of the recent discussion that has occurred on the
niqab. We therefore come to the second part of this article. Why do
Canadians oppose the niqab in citizenship ceremonies, and why does
Mulcair support it? In my perusal of forum comment sections, I have
found three major themes as to why Canadians oppose the niqab. The
first theme is that of security: some Canadians fear that the
identity of new citizens are being improperly verified. The second
theme pertains to the rights of women: some see the niqab is seen as
a symbol or tool for the subjugation of women. Finally, the third
theme is that of culture: if someone is going to become a Canadian
citizen then they should conform to Canadian standards and values.
Mulcair’s position, as some of the quotes I have already referenced
demonstrate, seems to be essentially that women should have the
liberty to wear the niqab in the ceremony. As far as the first fear
of improper confirmation of citizenship goes, all of my research
suggests that there is nothing to be concerned about – all new
citizens have their identities verified before the citizenship
ceremony (there are many articles like this).
I will therefore only be examining the other two themes more closely.

It is worth noting,
initially, that there is significant room for overlap between the
second and third theme. Those who oppose the wearing of the niqab in
citizenship ceremonies because they view it as a tool of oppression
are also necessarily taking the stance that new citizens should not
support the oppression of women, that is, they should adopt to the
Canadian norm. Therefore the second theme seems more accurately to be
an offshoot or variant of the third theme. The second theme, however,
is explicitly moral. I shall therefore redraw the distinction between
the second and third theme as pertaining to moral and amoral
(non-moral) arguments.

The second theme is
therefore opposition to the niqab on the basis that it immorally
subjugates women. Is this correct? I would argue that, for the matter
at hand, the issue the morality of the niqab is irrelevant to a
liberal society such as our own. Though it may be a tool or symbol of
oppression, wearing the niqab is a matter of choice: if wearing the
niqab does not cause harm to anyone, it is not clear on what basis it
can be banned. One response that might be made is that the Canadian
government somehow endorses the subjugation of women through
permitting the niqab in the citizenship ceremony. To me this seems
false: allowing the niqab in citizenship ceremonies seems to support
the subjugation of women as much as my belief in free speech commits
me to being a pro-lifer (note: CreativePhilo is not a pro-lifer). It
seems the only avenue left if one is to oppose the niqab on moral
grounds is to lessen one’s commitment to liberalism (by which I mean
the belief that people should be able to do what they want, as long
as they are not causing harm to others). Liberalism may have its
limits, but I do not think we find such a limit when it comes to the

The third theme,
that of aesthetics, more or less falls with the second. For, I hope,
most Canadians consider liberalism a more crucial aspect of Canadian
identity than dress-code. I will make a final note on my own views on
Canadian identity. In many ways we define ourselves in opposition to
our southerly neighbors: when it comes to multiculturalism the
traditional schism is to say that the US is a melting pot that makes
everyone the same, while Canada is a mosaic. I do believe that this
distinction is drawing our attention to something important.
Multiculturalism has historically been key to Canadian identity, in a
way that seeks to celebrate rather than suppress differences.

Thank you for

 CreativePhilo (Ryan

via Blogger


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