Nfld. & Labrador

Government has to be 'respectful of beliefs,' says Paul Davis on niqabs

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis says the province needs to be respectful of everyone's beliefs, and that includes women who choose to wear a niqab.
At a news conference about immigration, we asked Premier Davis about the niqab issue. 0:57

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis says the province needs to be respectful of everyone's beliefs, and that includes women who choose to wear a niqab.

The niqab has become a divisive federal election issue in recent weeks, with the Conservative government vowing to fight a Federal Court of Appeal ruling saying women shouldn't have to remove their niqabs during citizenship ceremonies.

In an interview with CBC's Rosemary Barton Tuesday, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said his government would consider banning public servants from wearing the niqab.

But Davis says it's government's job to ensure the country, and the province, are welcoming to immigrants and Canadians of all backgrounds.

"My position's always been that, we want to welcome new Canadians, we have to be respectful of their own beliefs, we have to be respectful of what they bring with them," Davis said Wednesday.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis says the province should respect the beliefs of women who choose to wear a niqab. (Patrick Doyle/CP)

Davis said he didn't want to narrow down his comments to any one issue, but it's important to recognize people come from a wide variety of backgrounds.

"We need to respect people coming from other countries and that's what we've done, we've done a very good job of that in the past and that's where I am on this one."

Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Clyde Jackman said welcoming people from those different backgrounds is an important part in making the province attractive to potential new Canadians.

"Certainly anything we can do to attract immigrants to the province, recognizing the opinions of different people, but I think that we want to send a message that Newfoundland and Labrador is open and accepting of immigrants," he said.

MUN students agree with Davis

During advanced voting at Memorial University campus Wednesday, a number of students also shared their opinion on the niqab debate.

"A lot of the issues like this are extreme and not necessarily for the benefit of everyone in the country," said Megan Timmonds, a liberal arts student majoring in French.

"In any situation that doesn't concern the safety and security of anybody else, there's absolutely no reason that people shouldn't be able to wear what they want to in their day to day life."

Premier Paul Davis says Newfoundland and Labrador needs to be welcoming to people from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs. (CBC)

Reem Abu-Hendi, a 3rd year nutrition student at MUN, also doesn't think it's fair that the Harper campaign is turning the niqab debate into a campaign issue.

"I don't think it's a real debate, I think it's a political thing," she said.

"If you're going to the public service and you want to get your papers done, I don't think it matters if the person serving you wears a turban or a head cover — as long as your papers are being done."

Megan Timmons, a liberal arts student at Memorial University. (CBC)

Abu-hendi thinks the whole discussion is hurtful and damaging to those in the community who wear a niqab.

"In St. John's, we don't have that many, maybe seven or eight," she said.

"They feel they have been abandoned or disgraced. It has a major effect on them."

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