OTTAWA, CANADA: A Canadian Liberal government would allow new citizens to wear a veil at citizenship ceremonies, its leader said Friday, bucking popular opinion just a month away from elections.
The position on the niqab, which covers all the face except the eyes, differs strikingly from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's ruling Tories, who have fought a court battle to prevent just that and this week vowed to enshrine a niqab ban into law.
Justin Trudeau, whose centrist Liberal Party is neck and neck with the Conservatives and leftist New Democrats in opinion polls, said that if elected on October 19 his party would halt an appeal of a Federal Court of Appeal ruling this week that effectively quashed the ban.
"We will be looking at ensuring that Canadians' rights are respected across the country," Trudeau said. The Tories have vowed to take the fight to the Supreme Court if need be.
Read: Canada court lets women wear veil for citizenship oath
"Most Canadians find it offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment where they are committing to join the Canadian family," Tory candidate Denis Lebel said.
"We believe that all citizenship candidates should take the oath of citizenship publicly with their face uncovered, which is consistent with Canadian values of openness, social cohesion, and equality."
The case was brought by Toronto-area resident Zunera Ishaq, who argued successfully that the ban violated her religious freedoms under Canada's rights charter. The appeals court had expedited its decision so Ishaq could take the oath in time to vote in the elections.
Originally from Pakistan, Ishaq arrived in Canada in 2008 and passed her citizenship test in 2013. But she refused to participate in the oath-reciting ceremony because she did not want to do it with her face uncovered, as required under a 2011 rule change.
The ban notwithstanding, Canada sees itself as a pioneer in multiculturalism for policies including allowing federal police and soldiers who are Sikh to wear their traditional turban and dagger while in uniform.
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