Ceremony debate

Diverse views on niqab issue

People on Dalhousie’s campus oppose — and support — the federal Conservatives’ effort to restrict head coverings at citizenship ceremonies

Produced by Agência Brasil, a public Brazilian news agency. From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository
Produced by Agência Brasil, a public Brazilian news agency. From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository   Aya Al-Hakim

Halifax residents have opposing views as to whether the federal government should be able to require women who wear the niqab to remove it for citizenship ceremonies.

Some people, asked about the issue near the Dalhousie University campus, criticized the Conservative government policy, while others expressed their support.

“I think it is a distraction, used effectively by the prime minister, to get people heated up,” said Jim Dalling, a visiting psychotherapist at University of King’s College. “I don’t have a stance on it because it doesn’t bloody affect me.”

However, a 19-year-old Dalhousie University student supports the ban.

“It is a cultural thing, but each Muslim has a different view. So I think that an opinion must be respected even if someone is against it,” said Bashayer Alsafayar, a student from Saudi Arabia,

The controversy began with the case of Zunera Ishaq, a Pakistani and devout Sunni Muslim, who refused to take part in a citizenship ceremony and challenged the rule in Federal Court arguing the ban on head coverings went against her Charter rights. A Federal Court judge struck down the ban and a Federal Court of Appeal judge dismissed a government appeal last month.

Canadian media reported last week that the federal government commissioned a poll on the issue in the spring. That poll suggested that 82 per cent of Canadians supported the Conservatives’ requirement to have the niqab or burka removed during citizenship ceremonies, 15 per cent opposed the rule and four per cent didn’t take sides or give an answer.

Mark Burke, a senior fellow in the humanities at King’s, opposes the rule too.

“I think it is ridiculous. Why don’t they ask for DNA swabs instead?”

Dalling agrees.

“The women who wear the niqab are but a speck in Canadian society, so it is not a threat to anyone’s identity,” he said.

Another student from Saudi Arabia, which has the niqab as part of its culture, however, supports the ban.

“I believe that it is controversial even in Saudi Arabia, so we don’t need to have it here, where it is stands out in an odd way,” said Atheer Alosaimi, a 26-year-old-student from Dal.

She also said that the niqab is not required by Islam.