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Your Authoritative Guide to Dealing with Canada's Bullshit Niqab Debate

You don't have to take our word on the most inane debate of our time, but you should.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA
October 2, 2015, 6:10pm

Photo via Flickr user POTIER Jean-Louis

According to people who are often cited in sentences that begin with "according to…" the niqab debate has become a very important part of the federal election campaign, with the governing Conservatives using it to clobber the helpless New Democrats all across Quebec and Ontario.

This debate is stupid and we all hate it. So here are a list of things you should know in order to yell factually correct things at your Uncle Ron when he brings it up at Thanksgiving Dinner in the hopes that we can burn this debate. Burn it with fire.


And while this guide is intended to equip you with the rhetorical flamethrower needed to deal with Ron's bullshit, you should probably hear from an actual woman who actually wears the niqab, and why she thinks all these white dudes telling her to strip is utter fucking nonsense.

"That oath [of citizenship] isn't just a formality, it isn't just a frill. It is a formal requirement under the law of becoming a Canadian citizen. If you don't take the oath, you don't become a citizen,"Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, speaking to VICE in June.

Yeah, except there is no legal requirement to show your face during the ceremony where you become a citizen. All would-be citizens are required to actually sign the oath of citizenship, which is the legal part of becoming a citizen. For the oral exam part of the ceremony, you may as well be reciting "Hypnotize" by Notorious B.I.G. ("I swear to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada that I will keep rappin' 'bout blunts and broads, tits and bras, ménage à trois, sex in expensive cars.")

"There is a valid security concern about who is taking the oath of citizenship,"Brian Lilley, writing in The Rebel.

There is no security risk in allowing someone to cover their face during a citizenship ceremony. By the time you've gotten to the point of the ceremony, you would have already faced years and years of paperwork, interviews, background checks, and intense scrutiny by citizenship officials, including more than one instance where you would need to remove any face covering you otherwise deem necessary. That whole process takes at least six years. You would have to be a very committed terrorist to hide a hat-bomb (or whatever) at your citizenship ceremony.


"The notion that this practice is rooted in a religious obligated is counter-factual. This is a tribal custom that dates from pre-medieval times that is now being amplified by political movements in a handful of countries,"— Defence and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney talking to Daily VICE in September.

Oh gosh, I'd hate to have a custom amplified by a political movement. This line of argument is honestly one of the most confounding of this whole debate. Of course the niqab is a tribal custom. So is circumcision and the Pope. OK, fine, nothing in the Qur'an explicitly requires the niqab—just like nothing in the Bible requires you to be such a sanctimonious ass about other people's faith. The entire point of faith is that it is a series of rules based on a book that nobody can seem to agree on. Islam has a long history of vigorous scholarly debate on a variety of political, moral, and theological issues, which is why there are so many divergent sects of the religion. Some of those sects determined that a face-covering would be required to meet the standard of modesty demanded by the Qur'an—while others, surprise, merely recommended (not required) it. A 2014 study from the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (who themselves oppose the niqab) interviewed 81 women who wear the niqab and found that not a single one admitted to doing so out of any sort of fear or coercion.

"We should not allow that to interfere with the unifying, common grounding of equality before the law when people become citizens," Kenney continued in his Daily VICE interview.


There is no particular tradition involved in showing your face during a citizenship ceremony—or, hell, to citizenship ceremonies themselves. The United Kingdom only began doing the celebrations for new-citizens in 2004. Our's is a fair bit older, dating back to 1947, although virtually everything about it has changed—the oath, the structure of the ceremony, and the requirements. While the ceremonies have always been before judges, there's nothing inherently legal about them.

There has never been any concerns about showing your face at a citizenship ceremony before. Seriously. I have spent the past two hours pouring through newspapers dating back to the turn of the century. I can't find anything.

The most concrete language I've been able to find anywhere about the dress code for citizenship ceremonies dating back to before Kenney, then immigration minister, had this policy written actually comes from a Government of Canada website:

"The appropriate dress for candidates at a citizenship ceremony is business attire, but they may choose to wear a traditional dress."

So take that for what it's worth.

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