Open letter: To Chris Alexander from concerned Canadian citizens

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To the Honourable Minister of Immigration Chris Alexander: 

We, like many Canadians, were taken aback by your recent comments about a woman's right to choose what to wear for two reasons: one, you are stigmatizing the minority of women who wear niqab, and even hijab; and two, because you are politicizing a fundamental constitutional right.

"We believe that when someone becomes a Canadian citizen, they should embrace everything that makes us proud to be Canadian. That should be done without interference, freely and openly. It's why we filed a notice to appeal this week's court decision allowing people to wear the hijab while taking the Oath," you said in a Conservative Party email, mentioning the scarf worn over a woman's hair.

We know you were referring to the recent Federal Court decision, which found it illegal to ban the niqab in citizenship ceremonies (one would assume you know the difference between the two, considering that you previously served as Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan, a Muslim majority country). However, instead of clarifying, you followed up with a tweet saying: "Defending indefensible -- a Lib tradition! Niqab, hejab, burqa, wedding veil -- face coverings have no place in cit oath-taking!"

Quite the quandary, or is this part of a political strategy to lump all Canadian Muslim women into the category of 'other', with the implication they are not Canadian when they make certain choices about how to dress? Since when was dividing Canadians a national value -- or is it so only at election time?

May we respectfully remind you that it was your government which set up the Office of Religious Freedom? Why do so and then interfere with religious freedom at home for a few cheap political points (and at taxpayer expense)?

Perhaps deep down, your opposition to a woman covering her face simply reflects a paternalistic desire to rescue "Muslim women from their backward beliefs and from attire presumably forced on them by misogynistic Muslim men," as sociology professor Jasmin Zine notes in the book, Islam in the Hinterlands.

Professor Zine goes on to point out that this attitude of "authoritarian paternalism of the Canadian state mirrors the religious mandates requiring women to cover themselves that the mullahs of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan use in similar ways to regulate the bodies of Muslim women and to deny them the right to decide how to express their identity and faith." Not exactly Canadian values, eh?

The applicant in the Federal Court case, Zunera Ishaq, has clearly stated that she has chosen to wear the niqab out of her own free will. In fact, Ms. Ishaq is a contributing member of society, active and as entitled to be Canadian as any one of us.

Besides, the notion that most women are forced to wear it in Canada also has no empirical evidence (and this isn't the first time you have made questionable claims with statistics, just ask the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario about your 'Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act').

On the issue of niqab, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women conducted a study in which they surveyed and interviewed many of the tiny minority of Muslim women who wear it in Ontario. The study found that zero participants were forced to cover. Furthermore, all of the immigrant women in the study began wearing the niqab after they arrived in Canada.

As for concerns about security and identification, Justice Keith Boswell clearly states in the judgment that Ms. Ishaq is willing to unveil herself for these purposes. She is only objecting to having to take off her face veil during the public ceremonial citizenship oath.

Here's a suggestion: if you have all this extra money lying around for unnecessary litigation, use it instead to restore funding to women's programs and launch that inquiry into the cases of hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Canadians will most certainly value progress over the politics of exclusion.


Concerned Canadian citizens


Photo: google images

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