Tories introduce bill to ban veiled voting

The Conservative government tabled legislation Friday to force all voters, including those wearing veils, to show their faces for identification before being allowed to vote in federal elections.

TheConservativegovernment introduced legislation Friday to force all voters — including veiled Muslim women — toshow their faces for identificationbefore being allowed tovote in federal elections.

Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan introduced the proposed amendment to the Canada Elections Act, which was promised in the Tories' Oct. 16 throne speech.

Theproposed amendmentmakes a limited exception for any voter whose face is swathed in bandages due to surgery or some other medical reason.

TheTories were furious over a decision by Elections Canada to allow Muslim women to vote with their faces covered by burkas or niqabs during three Quebec byelections in September.

"During the recent byelections in Quebec, the government made it clear that we disagreed with the decision by Elections Canada to allow people to vote while concealing their face," VanLoan said.

"That is why … we committed to introducing legislation to confirm the visual identification of voters."

At the time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper accused Elections Canadaof subverting the will of Parliament.

Thenew legislationalso gives some flexibility to Elections Canada officials in administering the law so that it is respectful of religious beliefs.

Van Loan said Elections Canada may want to make it feasible for veiled Muslim women to uncover their faces behind a screen and in front of a female elections official.

Thebill is expected to draw support from all parties, after MPs angrily ganged up last month on chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand for refusing to require visual identification of voters in the recentQuebec byelections.

Bill C-31, which waspassed last spring, required voters to show one piece of government-issued photo ID — the most basicstandard of voter identification — or two pieceswithout a photo before being allowed to vote.

But Mayrandinsisted there was nothing in the Elections Act requiringthe absolute visual recognition of each voter.

Veiled voters who only present one piece of governmentphoto ID at polling stationsare asked, but not required, to show their face,Mayrand told MPs in September.

If they decline to do so,he said, the voters must choose one of two other means of identifying themselves, neither of which requires photo identification, as currently stated in the Canada Elections Act.

In those cases, the act allowed voters either to present two pieces of approved ID, at least one of which must state their address (but neither of which must contain a photo), or to have another voter registered in the same district vouch for them.

With files from the Canadian Press