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The Legal Battle Over the Niqab Is Over in Canada

Justin Trudeau's government has dropped a legal challenge mounted by his predecessor after a Canadian court ruled that the government couldn't force a woman to remove her face-covering veil during a citizenship ceremonies.

by Justin Ling
Nov 16 2015, 8:30pm

Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press

As concerns over Islamophobia in Canada rise, Justin Trudeau's government has announced that it will abandon his predecessor's pursuit of a ban on niqabs at citizenship ceremonies, and let the policy die.

Citing the country's diversity and multiculturalism, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould announced the decision in Ottawa Monday, fulfilling a campaign promise by Trudeau.

The policy, which had been brought in under the previous Harper administration, forbade all face-coverings at citizenship ceremonies — although the government of the time made no illusions that it was directly targeting the Islamic veil that covers all but the eyes.

Zunera Ishaq, an Ontario woman who has lived in Canada since 2008, fought the ban and won. She became a citizen in October.

But the Harper government continued to fight the courts and ultimately appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

That legal fight is now over, as Wilson-Raybould announced she would withdraw the government's objections and allow women who wear the niqab take the oath of citizenship as they see fit — or, as some citizenship officials had begun doing, holding female-only ceremonies where the women would feel comfortable removing their veil.

Wilson-Raybould says she called Ishaq personally to notify her of the decision.

Related: Woman at Center of Canada's Niqab Battle Becomes Citizen as Debate Rages in Election

"We are a strong and united country because of, not in spite of, our differences," Immigration Minister John McCallum said in a statement regarding the announcement.

All would-be citizens of Canada have always been required to go through security screening, take a test that probes their knowledge of Canada and its values, prove their fluency in one or both of the country's official languages, and show their face for their identification and passport.

The policy, and the government's appeal, became a focal point of the recent election campaign and was widely criticized as being racist and xenophobic, although polls indicated that the ban was supported by the majority of the country.

The Conservatives, who were wiped from power on October 19, even suggested expanding the ban to all public servants.

Wilson-Raybould was also asked on Monday about the threat posed by the Islamic State, seeing as Canada was named directly on multiple occasions by the terror group, and backlash against Muslim-Canadians, after an Ontario mosque was torched following the attacks in Paris.

Wilson-Raybould did not respond to the question, saying that she'll be sitting down with the minister of public safety to talk about domestic security.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @justin_ling