03.12.2015 08:42 AM

From the archives: me on the niqab, hijab and veils, March 2010

The full post:


Possible lawbreaker.

BR Ignatieff Veil
Source: The Canadian Press
Mar 27, 2010 3:13

MONTREAL – Michael Ignatieff is weighing in on the Muslim face-covering debate that’s raging in Quebec.

The federal Liberal leader says he supports controversial legislation that would force veiled women in Quebec to uncover their faces when receiving or delivering public services.

Ignatieff says the bill represents a “good Canadian balance” between religious freedom and equal treatment.

Some Muslim groups and other commentators have harshly denounced the bill, branding it as intolerant.

Ignatieff, however, says it’s “ridiculous” to say that Quebec is more intolerant than other parts of the country.

He says all modern societies are grappling with how to reasonably accommodate cultural and religious differences.


I’m not “grappling” with this one, personally. I don’t agree, at all, with the position that my party – or the governing party – have taken, here. That likely places me in a small minority, but I’m okay with that.

It’s fair to say, however, that I’m also not overly exercised about what Quebec proposes to do: it’s a poorly-drafted law, one that will face (so to speak) an inevitable constitutional challenge. I just cannot foresee such a law surviving a Section Two Charter review – nor it being regarded as particularly reasonable, under a Section One check.

On the other hand – if I am wrong, and I’m often wrong – and the law survives a Charter challenge, prepare yourself for the inevitable: every kook and bigot with some spare time on his hands may commence litigation against the Sikh’s turban and beard, the Jew’s kippah and the Hasidic’s Jew clothing, the Hindu’s tilak facial markings, the styles favoured by traditional Mennonites and the Amish, or perhaps even the ostentatious display of a nun’s habit. I mean, why not, right? Any one of those things may serve to obscure a person’s identity in some way. Fair’s fair.

There may indeed be occasions when the provision of certain government services reasonably require that we see a person’s face – checking a passport, crossing a border, perhaps even voting – when a person’s bona fides can’t otherwise be confirmed. But, say, popping by a government office to pay a parking ticket? Will the new law prohibit that, too?

I think we’re in rather dangerous territory, here, but I’m interested in your thoughts, as always.


  1. Bill says:

    If I were blind or receiving services over the phone, appearance of the employee wouldn’t matter to me.

    And, in person, the only relevant standard should be how they do their job.

    All this wasted energy on matters of little import.

  2. Marion I. says:

    Okay, let’s assume that any Conservative ‘Niqab Law’ is deemed ‘unconstitutional’; is that a victory for Islam or does it further alienate muslims in Canada? Think of that!

    Also, would the Liberals and NDP proclaim that our ‘constitution’ is great and perfect because it eliminates such discrimination and are willing to defend that position in an election?


  3. Sean says:

    I understand the niqab issue when delivering eye witness testimony in a court room. Observing facial expressions can be a fundamental part of the procedure. Every other situation, every other garment: the government has no place in the wardrobes of the nation. Both sides are cranking up dangerous rhetoric for their own gain. In the end they will only get their base excited.

    Oh, and the idea of Muslims being sexist? I defy anyone to to produce an example of a religion with no sexism at all. One of the reasons I count myself on team agnostic. Love Warren’s photo with this post.

    • davie says:

      I think we have, and are adding to, legislation that allows evidence to be presented at court without the accuser or witness be identified. I am thinking of rules allowing our national security people the ability to present evidence without revealing in court the personal identity of the agent. For security of the witness or accuser, the identity is not revealed.

  4. Al in Cranbrook says:

    Warren, you put up a good post recently about emotion in politics.

    Comparing a niqab to any of the other things you mentioned, blurs the real matter at hand: Covering one’s face, one’s identity, specifically their identity as a woman. This is, by every measure, antithetical to what the vast majority of Canadians regard as that…heritage, tradition, values, liberty and freedom, dignity…which makes us uniquely “Canadian”.

    When the subject becomes, what does it mean to be Canadian, emotion takes over, for this comes from the heart.

    In this matter, I’d suggest that Harper will be widely seen as the singular leader ready to defend what people feel in their hearts is Canada.

    A great many Canadians are wearisome, if not fed up outright, of being told by intellectuals…and activist judges…what being “Canadian” is supposed to be. And that our traditions and heritage have no place or value whatsoever in that discussion.

    Harper takes up this cause, with all its inherent symbolism, he wins huge.


    • doconnor says:

      “A great many Canadians are wearisome, if not fed up outright, of being told by intellectuals…and activist judges…what being “Canadian” is supposed to be.”

      And they are demanding the right impose on others what being “Canadian” is supposed to be.

      • Al in Cranbrook says:

        Imposing what? You don’t think Canadians have a “right” to see exactly who is standing in front of a judge and jury? Or exactly who is taking the oath of citizenship in their country to become a Canadian?

        Flip it on its head. You okay with taking the stand in court, or the oath of citizenship stark naked?

        Is this where we’re heading? Anything goes? No standards of any kind whatsoever?

        Why are fewer and fewer people getting involved in politics, or taking the time to vote any more? Because, I deeply suspect, a great many would quietly state that they increasingly don’t recognize their country any more. And their fed up with politicians they elect whom consistently refuse to stand up for their country, its history, and its traditions, and its deeply rooted values.

        We’re a free country, and these are our rules, based upon these principles, some unspoken because they went for centuries as innately understood by everyone. We can be as accommodating as it gets, even to a fault…but we have limits, just like everyone and everything else in this world. Welcome to our country that our forefathers built by the sweat of their brow and the blood of bodies. And BTW, we as a nation didn’t just fall off a turnip truck yesterday! Okay?

        • doconnor says:

          The oath of citizenship isn’t a big deal. They are only raising it because the issue appeals to our fears.

          In a court where their honesty is in question I can see how showing their faces could be useful. I believe that is how courts have ruled. Perhaps studies should be done to see if seeing their face helps or hinders a jury’s ability to tell the truth from lies. I wouldn’t be surprised if not seeing their faces help people focus more on if they their testimony is consistent with the established facts.

          I think you find that the voting rate is lower among the young and tolerant then the old and fearful of change. You should remember that the voting patterns in Cranbrook are not typical of Canada.

        • Howard Moon says:


          Ive been reading you for a while and I have to ask. Do you find writing your points in the voice of Foghorn Leghorn makes them more effective?

    • wsam says:

      I find ill-informed people who proudly parade their latest brain fart as some sort of deeply profound political insight wearisome.

  5. Joe says:

    So I hear that Justin’s favourite government, Communist China, is banning the burqa I wonder if Justin is conflicted?

    I don’t have an issue with religious garb except when that religion is trying to replace Canadian law with their religious law. If a peace loving religion wants to practice its religion under Canadian law then they are welcome to live peacefully in Canada. If their aim is to replace Canadian law with their religious law then we have an issue. One wag suggested the niqab court case has more to do with an Islamic woman trying to show Canada that Islamic law trumps Canadian law. Ems5

  6. smelter rat says:

    It’s much ado about nothing. Red meat for the base at best. There MIGHT be a handful of women per year who want to wear a niquab at a citizenship ceremony, and their identity can easily be confirmed before the ceremony. Too bad our politicians are wasting oxygen debating a non issue. But that’s just an example of Harper’s wedge politics.

  7. Brad says:

    “It’s much ado about nothing.” You wish!

    Harper will win over the Canadian feminist vote over the nasty niqab subjugation of muslim women in Canada and worldwide. Real feminists can’t vote for patriarchal Justin or Thomas now!

    Or, will Canadian feminists say that their muslim sisters can wear the niqab just because patriarchal Harper says they can’t? Help, I’m confused!

    • davie says:

      Sometimes I wonder whether we spend a bit too much time focusing an overt token or symbol of any group’s unjust treatment, and we do not delve into the actual injustice, or roots of that injustice. We pretend that nattering about a symbol is attacking injustice, when what is actually happening is that our nattering is saving us from actually removing the injustice.

    • sezme says:

      My prediction: the latter. Canadian feminists are fed up with the Harpers of the world trying to tell them what to wear.

  8. wsam says:

    I might start wearing a niqab. Take that Harper!

  9. VC says:

    Why is it that the Government of Canada will confirm citizenship through iris recognition biometrics for the use of a Canadian Nexus passport, yet the Conservatives will not afford the same for the 45 seconds it takes to take the Oath of Citizenship. After all, if one wears a niqab, their irises are still visible for positive identification. Seems very – almost wildly – inconsistent.

  10. This is a note that I sent to Tasha Kheiriddin

    Hi Tasha – I taught Emirati women at the Higher Colleges of Technology for a year and a half (2011-2013) in Sharjah, UAE and I lived in Dubai (1 1/2 hours away).

    I taught Emirati women and me at the college level. I taught women in the Women’s College and men in the Men’s College during the day. I also taught both women and men in the same class in the evening – with women on one side and men on the other. I only had one female student that I only saw her eyes.

    Women in the UAE who wear the Niqab can travel alone, they can drive cars. They can perform the same occupations as men and you will see them out and about in malls and on the beaches.

    The following statement is incorrect:
    Countries where women wear the niqab do not allow them to travel alone – that is not true in the UAE. They do not allow them to drive cars that is not true in the UAE. They do not allow girls to go to school that is not true in the UAE.. They do not allow them to perform the same occupations as men, or to mix with men in the public sphere – that is not true in the UAE..

    I would ask that you retract this statement.


    Beth Higginson
    Cell#: 416-884-5543

  11. George says:

    This won’t win me any friends here, but I wish governments would treat religion with the lack of respect (I think) it deserves.

    Covering your face, wearing a funny hat, a nun’s habit, a knife in your turban – for the sake of some “God” seems awfully irrational to me.

    But what do I (or anyone else, for that matter?) know…guess I (might) find out when my time comes. But I’m 99% sure I won’t – and I’m comfortable with the idea I’ll just cease to exist.

  12. Elisabeth Lindsay says:

    Neither the niqab nor burqa are religious garb.

    Only Wahabists and Taliban insist on them.

    They are entitled to lash any woman not wearing them.

    They are oppressive to women.

  13. Elisabeth Lindsay says:

    Hijabs are quite attractive and really come in handy on those pesky bad hair days. In my opinion.

  14. EB says:

    I am grappling with something, but not this.

    While thousands of words are being spilled about whether a woman is or should be allowed to cover her face, or not, the Harper Government ™ seems to be getting a free ride on the economy.

    I really don’t care much about niqab. The economy, however, can have a big impact on me…

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