Stephen Harper’s veiled attack on religious freedom

February 18, 2015

Clifford Orwin is a professor of political science at the University of Toronto and a distinguished fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

Stephen Harper is not just smart; he can be highly insightful. In 2011, for example, he established the Office of Religious Freedom in the Department of Foreign Affairs. He thus showed himself ahead of the curve on an issue whose importance has continued to grow. In that same year, unfortunately, his then minister of immigration, Jason Kenney, announced a domestic rule tending to religious suppression. Last week that ruling returned to haunt Mr. Harper.

The plaintiff in the case that aroused his ire was Zunera Ishaq of Mississauga, an immigrant of Sunni Muslim faith who has qualified for citizenship. She wishes to take her oath of allegiance without removing her Islamic niqab or face covering. This was the practice Mr. Kenney’s rule had banned. Now, however, Justice Keith Boswell, a federal judge, has struck down that ban. He declared that it violated the government’s own regulations, which required citizenship judges to “allow the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization” of the oath. As for Ms. Ishaq, she expressed delight that she would finally be able to take the oath.

Ms. Ishaq had failed to reckon, however, on the Grinch who stole Swearing-In Day. Mr. Harper, campaigning in dogmatically secularist Quebec, announced that his government would appeal the ruling. “It is not how we do things here,” he thundered. “I believe, and I think most Canadians believe, that it is offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment where they are committing to join the Canadian family.” He went on to invoke standards of “openness” and “transparency” against Ms. Ishaq and her small knot of pious Muslim sisters. (Justice Boswell estimated that there are perhaps 100 other women in her situation.)

By Clifford Orwin, Globe and Mail | Link to Article