Niqab ban prevented 2 women from proceeding with citizenship oath

Since the Conservative government implemented a policy in 2011 stating that candidates for citizenship must remove any kind of face covering when taking the public citizenship oath, only two women have decided to not go through with the ceremony.

Controversy over niqab swells into an election issue

Zunera Ishaq sued the Canadian government, arguing, in part, that the ban against her wearing the niqab during the ceremony was an infringement of her charter rights. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

Since the Conservative government implemented a policy in 2011 stating that candidates for citizenship must remove any kind of face covering when taking the public citizenship oath, only two women have decided to not go through with the ceremony.

"Citizenship applications have not been refused based on the 2011 policy," said Sonia Lesage, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada. "We are only aware of two individuals who have chosen not to proceed to the citizenship ceremony based on the requirement to remove their face coverings."

The controversy centres around the case of Zunera Ishaq, a Pakistani woman and devout Sunni Muslim who is seeking Canadian citizenship. Based on her religious beliefs, Ishaq wears a niqab, or veil, to cover most of her face when out in public.

It's not known how many women are dissuaded from seeking citizenship because of the niqab ban.

The wearing of the niqab during the citizenship oath has become a controversial election issue. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May oppose the ban, while Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe support it.

In 2011, then immigration minister Jason Kenney issued a new policy manual stating that candidates for citizenship must remove any kind of face covering when taking the public citizenship oath.

While applying for citizenship in 2013, Ishaq had agreed to unveil herself to an official before taking the citizenship test. But she objected to removing her niqab at the public swearing-in ceremony.

Ishaq, a permanent resident, later sued the government, arguing, in part, that the ban against her wearing the niqab during the ceremony was an infringement of her charter rights. 

A Federal Court judge ruled against the federal government and struck down the ban. The federal government appealed that decision, but lost that as well.

The government said it would appeal the matter to the Supreme Court, while vowing to reintroduce the niqab ban within 100 days of re-election.

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