As It Happens

Bob Rae calls #BarbaricCulturalPractices pledge 'Donald Trump on steroids'

“I feel quite strongly that when you actually talk to Canadians about the importance of respecting diversity and respecting difference it’s also something that has its resonance and also has its importance.”
Zunera Ishaq talks to reporters outside the Federal Court of Appeal after her case was heard on whether she can wear a niqab while taking her citizenship oath, in Ottawa on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. (Patrick Doyle/CP)

If you believe the pollsters, the majority of Canadians don't want the niqab to become a ballot box issue. Nonetheless, the Conservatives are taking every opportunity to discuss their bid to block women from swearing the citizenship oath without uncovering their faces. And last week, the Tory campaign pushed the issue further when Conservatives Chris Alexander and Kellie Leitch promised a new RCMP "tip line" to allow people to report their suspicions of "barbaric cultural practices."

Bob Rae, the former interim Liberal leader, thinks the announcement is absurd.

"Somebody says it's a dog whistle -- it's not a dog whistle, it's a foghorn," he tells As It Happens host Carol Off.

"It's the Conservative international at work and they're really trying to divide Canadians and take us away from the need to build a generous country in which we recognize that without diversity we're not really Canadian."
Former interm Liberal leader Bob Rae. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Rae says the Conservatives have used the niqab issue as a divisive and sensational campaign tactic. But the polls suggest that Canadians do not share Rae's view. Chris Alexander insists that the Conservatives are responding to Canadians opinions and their values. Conservative candidate Jason Kenney has defended the position as an effort to protect women's rights.
On Monday, a Federal court rejected the government's bid to suspend the niqab ruling. The court cleared Zunera Ishaq (pictured above) to take her citizenship oath while wearing a niqab. 

"This is not about women's equality. This is about driving a wedge among Canadians," Rae argues. "This is not about the niqab. This is about diversity. This is about pluralism. This is about respecting difference."

Rae paraphrases the English writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall saying "we might disagree with what people think but we stand up for their right to say it."

He adds, "We don't have a national dress code, Mr. Kenney and Mr. Alexander shouldn't be going around telling people how to dress because once they start telling people how to dress then they are going to start telling people how to think."

When asked why the polls suggest the aggressive push from the Conservatives seems to be resonating with Canadians Rae counters: "I feel quite strongly that when you actually talk to Canadians about the importance of respecting diversity and respecting difference it's also something that has its resonance and also has its importance."

He adds, "This is like Donald Trump on steroids and it's disgraceful that the Conservative party would be going in this direction at this point in time."


An earlier version of the story attributed the Hall quote to Voltaire (as Bob Rae does in the interview). The quote is often misattributed to Voltaire. But, Hall wrote the line in her book The Friends of Voltaire.


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