The Conservative government struck back at the head of Elections Canada Tuesday, calling him "stubborn" and urging him to reconsider his stance on voting by veiled women.
Controversy erupted over the weekend when Canada's chief electoral officer, Marc Mayrand,said Muslim women would be allowed to vote with their faces covered by niqabs or burkas — an interpretation Conservatives blasted.
"This decision goes against the clear intent of the law that was adopted by Parliament. Basic common sense dictates that it's impossible for a person to demonstrate their identity if their face is concealed," Democratic Reform Minister Peter Van Loan said Tuesday.
Van Loan urged the Elections Canada chief to be "reasonable" and reconsider his position.
Mayrand has already been accused by Prime Minister Stephen Harper of ignoring the will of Parliament with his interpretation.
In upcoming election, veiled voters who present the most basic required voter identification, a piece of government photo ID, will be asked, but not required, to show their face.
'It isn't a loophole'
That, Van Loan says, is a misinterpretation of Bill C-31, passed last spring to improve the voting process with the requirement of visual identification of voters.
Van Loan concedes thelaw states people should be allowed to identify themselves with ID or through sworn statements of verified voters, butsays it is obvious they shouldhave to show their face while doing so.
"It's not necessary for Parliamentarians to pass a new law. If[Mayrand] is stubborn and determined that may be the response," said Van Loan.
Mayrand has already invited Parliament to change the act if they want more stringent identification requirements, but saysit's not his jobto settle the debate.
Van Loan said it is: "It isn't a loophole. It is a question of the interpretation that the chief electoral officer has applied."
Van Loanadded thatMuslim leaders have weighed in onthe debate, saying they want their communities to be treated equally
"The controversy is a bit unfortunate. It's something I don't think anyone in Parliament wanted. It's not something that anyone from those communities wanted."
Controversy a red herring: NDP MP
Van Loan dodged questionsabout the fact Mayrand told Parliament, before the law was passed, that it allowed veiled women to vote without uncovering.
Elections Canada raised the issue before all parties again in July.
NDP MP Pat Martin accused the Conservative government of pouncing on the voting issue to draw attention from an investigation into the party's election finances.
"Seeing as we can't find anybody, any Muslim group, that actually filed this complaint to Elections Canada, we can only conclude the Conservatives generated this whole red herring themselves to act as a diversion," Martin said.
Elections Canada is refusing to reimburse the Conservatives for more than $1 million in what it says are illegally claimed campaign expenses. The party is fighting the decision in court.