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The Battle Over a Face-Covering Ban at Canadian Citizenship Ceremonies Is Boiling Over

The federal government is doing everything it can to keep its policy that forbids new Canadians from covering their faces while taking their citizenship oath.
Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press

The battle in Canada over whether Muslim women can wear face coverings — also known as a niqab — while taking their citizenship oath is getting even more heated as the federal government is doing everything it can to keep its policy that forbids new Canadians from covering their faces during the ceremony.

On Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's representative in Quebec, Denis Lebel, announced that the government will ask a judge to delay the Federal Court of Appeal's decision from earlier this week that overturned the immigration ministry's niqab ban during citizenship ceremonies.


"We believe that all citizenship candidates should take the oath of citizenship publicly with their face uncovered, which is consistent with Canadian values of openness, social cohesion, and equality," Lebel wrote in a statement.

Lebel added that the government wants to keep the ban in place until the Supreme Court can hear its case — which could take months.

"As the prime minister has said, most Canadians find it offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment whether they are committing to join the Canadian family," he wrote.

The whole case pivots around Zunera Ishaq, a 29-year-old woman from Pakistan who has been a permanent resident in Canada since 2008. Ishaq, a devout Muslim, sued Canada's immigration ministry over its policy that forces new Canadians to unveil their faces when taking the oath of citizenship arguing it violates her religious belief that her face and hair be covered in public.

Related: Canada Wants Muslim Women to Take Off Their Face Coverings for Citizenship Oath

The Federal Court ruled in her favor this February, declaring the government's policy "unlawful". This week, the Court of Appeal rejected the government's attempt to defend the ban and the judges said they wanted to decide the case quickly so that Ishaq could take her citizenship oath in time to vote in the federal election next month. And the Conservatives swiftly said they would appeal to the Supreme Court. Friday's announcement upped the ante even further.

Lebel reiterated the Conservatives' promise that, if re-elected, they would re-introduce a piece of legislation that would make it illegal to wear a face covering during citizenship oaths.

In a March op-ed for the Toronto Star, Ishaq wrote that wearing the niqab makes her feel empowered: "I will take my niqab off again before the oath ceremony without protest so I can be properly identified," she wrote.

"I will not take my niqab off at that same ceremony for the sole reason that someone else doesn't like it, even if that person happens to be Stephen Harper."

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne