Niqab ban at citizenship ceremonies unlawful, as Ottawa loses appeal

Appeal Court rules so woman has chance to take oath and vote on Oct. 19

CBC News | September 15, 2015

The federal government has lost its appeal of a lower court ruling that struck down a ban on wearing niqabs at citizenship ceremonies.

Three justices on the Federal Court of Appeal, in a ruling from the bench, said they wanted to rule now so the woman at the centre of the case could take her citizenship oath and vote in the federal election on Oct. 19.

The case started with a lawsuit from Zunera Ishaq, a devout Muslim who moved to Ontario from Pakistan in 2008 to join her husband. Ishaq agreed to remove her niqab for an official before writing and passing her citizenship test two years ago, but she objects to unveiling in public at the oath-taking ceremony.

In the Federal Court ruling, Judge Keith Boswell said the government policy, introduced in 2011, violates the Citizenship Act, which states citizenship judges must allow the greatest possible religious freedom when administering the oath.

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Conservative candidate and Defence Minister Jason Kenney, who introduced the controversial policy when he was immigration minister, said he made the decision to underscore the public nature of the oath because citizenship defines who Canadians are.

“That’s why we believe that everyone taking the oath of citizenship, a public act, should do so openly, on equal terms, and without covering their face,” he said.

“Today’s ruling not only goes against the democratic will of Canadians, but against long-held Canadian values of openness and the equality of women and men.”

But Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, told CBC News that for the government to pursue yet another appeal at the cost of taxpayers’ dollars “would not make much sense when the ruling seems to be very, very clear and reaffirmed today.”

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