As a federal election campaign dominated by talk of terror threats and what Muslim women wear around their faces enters the home stretch, the Conservative government is ramping up its focus on how it will stamp out anything that threatens Canadian identity. This now includes setting up a new hotline for people to report any "incidents of barbaric cultural practices" to the federal police.
On Friday, Canada's Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced the hotline and other funding promises he says will help law enforcement carry out the government's recent legislation that criminalizes forced marriage and polygamy. Alexander's Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act came into effect this summer and was slammed by women's rights activists and lawyers for being racist and making it more difficult for victims to report violence.
Alexander's latest announcement comes as the government's controversial citizenship law and niqab ban during citizenship ceremonies have become hot wedge issues with recent polls showing the Conservatives are pulling ahead, possibly because of them. Quebec, in particular, has become a battleground for these issues, as incidents of Islamophobia have flared up over the last week.
"We need to stand up for our values," Alexander told reporters Friday. "We need to do that in citizenship ceremonies. We need to do that to protect women and girls from forced marriage and other barbaric practices."
Related: Canada Moves to Strip Citizenship From 10 Terrorists
But for Avvy Go, director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and South Asian Legal Clinic in Toronto, the government's approach ignores the real causes of violence against women.
"The hotline is going to do nothing to prevent violence, and how will they weed out the real calls about violence from people reporting on their neighbors simply because they are persons of color or they don't like Muslims?" Go said in an interview. "It suggests that certain cultures are more likely to be abused and subjected to domestic violence. And we know that's not true because we see these kinds of things happening all the time to women and men of all backgrounds."
She added that if the federal government wants to protect women, it should provide more support for women to leave violent relationships.
"Most importantly, calling a certain culture barbaric is not going to help them. If they are part of a culture the government and police says is barbaric, why would they be coming forward to seek help?" Go said. "And we already have a criminal justice system in place that deals with murder and other violent crimes. This is just at attempt to play into their voting base during election time."
This week, it was revealed that Canada's immigration ministry was stripping the Canadian citizenship of convicted terrorists who hold dual citizenship — and also of one Canadian-born convicted terrorist who does not.
Opposition leaders have both promised to repeal that law if they win the election, and at least two constitutional challenges have been launched against it in federal court. The Conservatives staunchly defend it, arguing that any Canadian who commits terrorism has forfeited their right to be one.
Related: 'A Canadian Is a Canadian': Liberal Leader Says Terrorists Should Keep Their Citizenship
Many Canadian Muslims have said the law unfairly targets Muslims and people from other countries, and say the same about the Immigration Ministry's rule that bans Muslim women from wearing niqabs during citizenship ceremonies.
That ban, and one woman's court battle for her right to wear her niqab at her ceremony, is expected to be a top issue tonight during the last federal leaders debate of the election, held in French in Quebec, where the debate over religious tolerance is especially heated. One Conservative candidate has urged his supporters to show up to the voting booth in balaclavas to protest the niqab.
This week, a pregnant Muslim woman was attacked in Montreal by a group of teens who tried to rip off her hijab. And several election campaign signs for the New Democratic Party, which opposes the niqab ban, were vandalized with anti-Muslim slogans.
"We're not talking about a majority issue," Samer Majzoub, president of the Canadian Muslim Forum told CBC News. "We're talking about a minority of women with niqabs. It is so clear that it's being used as a political football to earn votes."
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