The Current

Why Zunera Ishaq fought for her niqab - and became an election issue

The whole country has been talking about her, including - and especially - ​Conservative leader Stephen Harper. Today Zunera Ishaq explains why she fought so hard for the right to wear her niqab at the citizenship ceremony, despite criticism from all sides. And how it feels to be at the centre of a decisive campaign issue.
"I am feeling a little unsafe. People are staring at me... Otherwise before this issue has been taken to this point, everything was fine. I've never faced this kind of attitude in the public." - Zunera Ishaq fought the Conservative government for her right to wear a niqab at her citizenship ceremony (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)
"All my family were totally against it."- No one in Zunera Ishaq's family wore the niqab or hijab

She arrived in Canada from Pakistan in 2008.

She decided she wanted to wear her niqab during the citizenship oath... despite a government ban.

And with that, Zunera Ishaq was on her way to becoming perhaps the most pivotal figure of the current federal election campaign.

Last year a federal court judge upheld her challenge of the niqab ban's legality. The Conservative government appealed that decision, but the court sided with Zunera Ishaq once more last month.

And this week, she won another victory when the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed a government request to suspend that ruling, pending a further appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. 

Which means that, for now, Zunera Ishaq is free and clear to wear the niqab while taking her oath... and, if that happens in time, then she can vote come election day later this month.     

She likely never imagined at the beginning of this battle just how many other Canadians' voting intentions her case may ultimately sway.

Zunera Ishaq joined Anna Maria in our Toronto studio.

Anna Maria greets Zunera Ishaq before their interview. (Pacinthe Mattar/CBC)

We want to hear what you think about this conversation. Should the niqab have become an election issue like it did?

Tweet us @thecurrentcbc. Or post on our Facebook page. Or email us your thoughts.

This segment was produced by The Current's Pacinthe Mattar. 

Baltej Singh Dhillon on Racism

After being recruited by the RCMP, Baltej Singh Dhillon, a Sikh Canadian, requested to wear his turban along with the uniform, instead of the traditional Stetson hat. It sparked a great deal of controversy at the time, but in 1990 the policy was officially changed... and Baltej Singh Dhillon became the first turbaned RCMP cadet.

Here he is, reflecting on growing up facing racist taunts, and what it meant to be finally accepted by a Canadian insitution such as the RCMP.