Cowboy voter at advance poll was protesting niqab at citizenship ceremony

Ken Finlayson was so frustrated a woman was allowed to swear the oath of Canadian citizenship while she wore a niqab that he covered his face while voting for the federal election. CBC News tracked the Alberta trucker down after his headline-making appearance at the advance poll.

Ken Finlayson wore a cowboy hat and a bandana on his face while voting in Edmonton for federal election

Truck driver Ken Finlayson says he covered his face to vote Monday out of frustration after a woman wore a niqab at a citizenship ceremony. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

Ken Finlayson says he was so frustrated a woman was allowed to swear the oath of Canadian citizenship while wearing a niqab that he covered his face when he voted Monday in an advance poll for the federal election.

Finlayson, 69, said he wore the getup to protest a recent decision by the Federal Court of Appeal that allowed Zunera Ishaq to wear a niqab during her citizenship ceremony. 

The Alberta truck driver believes the court decision represents an erosion of Canadian values

"We have a long tradition of civilized procedures, and I respect that, and if people come to this country and they want to change that, I'm going to fight them."

Finlayson made headlines when he walked into the advance polling station in south Edmonton while wearing a cowboy hat and a bandana on his face. No one knew who he was, but CBC News tracked him down on Wednesday.

Finlayson started his fight against the court decision last month when he wore his cowboy hat in an Edmonton courtroom. He was there to support his partner, who was a witness at a criminal trial. It didn't take long for the clerk to ask him to remove his hat.

A man dressed as a cowboy with his face covered by a bandana enters an advance polling station in south Edmonton Monday. (Courtesy of Christian Munoz)

"Because this niqab case had just come down with a ruling and was bugging me, and the court wasn't started yet, I said to the clerk of the court, 'This is part of my cultural tradition and why can't I wear it?' and she said, 'We'll have to have you removed if you don't take your hat off,'" he said. 

Finlayson, who calls himself a proud cowboy, did take off his hat, but decided he would go a step further when voting.

Not only did he keep on his cowboy hat, but he covered his face with a silk scarf he would normally wear around his neck in the winter.

"When I walked into that gymnasium on Monday with that scarf over my face, what I said to everybody in there, 'I'm segregating myself. I'm not like the rest of you.' I was arrogant, and they felt it and they didn't like it."

He said the enormous response to his stunt shows there are a lot of people who have an opinion on either side of the debate.

Finlayson said his protest wasn't an endorsement of Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, who has made the niqab an issue during the election

Finlayson said his position also isn't anti-Muslim.  

"In fact, it's the exact opposite of that. These judges just put a target on every Muslim in Canada that dares to wear a niqab when she goes shopping or whatever, because they said, 'You're special.'"

Finlayson has worked on ranches most of his life and now has a job driving a 100-foot rig.

He said he's not the kind of guy to tell any woman what to wear in public, and has no problem with the niqab being worn in a public place.

"That's freedom. I don't care. You can go around here naked for all I care. Makes no difference to me, but when we go into a court, we have a certain standard of conduct."   

He said the way people have lambasted him on social media for covering his face is another example of the kind of hostility brought on by face coverings.

He now hopes the issue gets a proper debate involving all Canadians and politicians.

"We need to quit pretending it's not an issue. It irks people just like when I walked in there. It irked people."


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