Since gaining a majority government, the Conservative Party of Canada has waged a rather reckless fight on Canada’s democracy. At the UN vote on Palestinian statehood, Harper’s delegation made Canada a pariah by promising to vote against Palestine — along with only five other countries and against the wishes of the majority of Canadians. At the COP 17 global climate conference, Minister Peter Kent further shamed Canada on the issue of climate change.
Harper’s administration has shamelessly supported the Keystone oil pipeline despite its direct infringement on indigenous and environmental rights and despite a healthy resistance including Maude Barlow, Naomi Klein, and the largest environmental protest in Canadian history. Finally, at the summit of the G20 in Toronto, Harper’s goons spent a disgusting sum of money, violated thousands of people’s civil liberties, and launched a kangaroo trial culminating in the political imprisonment of six young activists.
All I’m asking at this point is for one week to go by without another major gaffe of Conservative lunacy. Well, hopes be dashed! Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney announced today that “Muslim women” would henceforth be required to remove all face-covering garments before taking the citizenship oath. Kenney describes it as a “fairly common problem” for applicants to arrive to the citizenship test wearing such a garment, and he finds it “bizarre” that the rules up to now have allowed people to wear the niqab while taking the oath. The Globe and Mail article can be found here.
Kenney’s explanation for the policy is that citizenship judges are concerned that “some Muslim women may not actually be reciting the oath” behind their face-covering garments. I’m going to go ahead and suggest that the fear of Muslim women faking the oath is probably not the real motivating force behind this new law.
It doesn’t take much to figure out the real rationale behind the new policy. Hint: it’s anti-Muslim racism. Some quotes from the comments section on the Globe and Mail kind of help make it clearer: “if you do not wish to accept Canadian values and standards, I’m sure these people would be happier elsewhere. Perhaps they might even remain in their countries of origin and help sort them out.” Another reader writes, “This is a great step forward in preserving Canada.” Finally, one person froths, “a good start, keep it going — ban all face coverings, inside [the home] and out. I know it gets cold in the winter and some like to wear a balaclava on those days… but you know that’s not what I’m talking about.”
Yes, we know what you’re talking about. What you’re talking about is an overwhelming urge to police, harass and interfere with the religion, culture and dress of Canadians who are Muslim. What you’re talking about is a really narrow idea of what counts as “Canadian values,” and a desire to abuse a certain group of people who you feel don’t belong. What Minister Kenney has done with this policy, therefore, is stoked the already-glowing fires of a growing and violent racism in Canada. He has encouraged all Canadians to antagonize Canadians who are Muslim. And the proof is in the comment section on this article, 1200-strong and growing, all filled with vitriolic hatred for those who are perceived as “different” or “not truly Canadian.”
The National Post puts the cherry on top of this sundae of bigotry and hatred. In a jaw-dropping article, the post actually provides the reader with a chart, containing four distinct images and bullet-points of key information beneath, entitled “Traditional Muslim Headgear.” Check it out here. Thanks, National Post — now I know what to be on the lookout for next time I’m at the citizenship office.
Why doesn’t every Globe and Mail reader in Canada see that what we’re doing here in Canada is systematically identifying, classifying, and attacking a minority group? Why don’t they see that this is classic, straightforward, racial antagonism reminiscent of the Jim Crow south? National Post’s Barbara Kay is, as always, the one to cut the crap and lay the cards on the table. She writes that this new policy has an added “symbolic value” in addition to its common sense. “Taking the oath of citizenship should be… a declaration that Canada’s democratic values will henceforth be those of the new Citizen,” Kay writes.
Finally, we understand. This new policy is not really about ensuring that everyone is dutifully reciting the citizenship oath, as Kenney claimed. It’s about asserting “Canadian values” and making it clear that Muslims have no place within Canada. See, as Kay so aptly points out, these women must be symbolically harassed in public: not because they are potentially faking their way through the oath, but because they represent “a culture” that “real Canadians” hate. Their values (as if all Muslim Canadians shared the same values) are apparently not compatible with Canadian values. So, we finally get the motivation behind the anti-niqab policy: it satisfies a racist hatred and Kenney’s need to shove it in the face of Muslim Canadians from abroad that they can come here, they can even become citizens, but they’d better know their place, dress how “we” tell them to, and accept abuse quietly.
Follow Nick Day on Twitter: @nickaday