Veil ban for citizenship

Islamic group decries veil ban for citizenship oaths

The head of an Islamic group in Winnipeg says she is outraged with the federal government's ban on face coverings, such as niqabs and burkas, for people swearing their oaths of citizenship.

The ban takes effect immediately, federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced on Monday.

That means Muslim women must now remove any face-covering garments before they can recite the oath of citizenship to become Canadians.

"When did the state have to start deciding what a religious obligation [is] or how a person expresses their faith?" Shahina Siddiqui, president and executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association Inc. in Winnipeg, told CBC News.

"Are we going to now have Mr Kenney give religious rulings on what is Islamic and what is not?"

Kenney said he does not accept that it's a religious obligation to wear the veil, explaining that when Muslim women perform the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca required by their faith, they are required not to cover their faces.

Ban is discriminatory, says Siddiqui

Kenney said the face covering is a cultural tradition that "reflects a certain view about women that we don't accept in Canada."

"We want women to be full and equal members of Canadian society and certainly when they're taking the citizenship oath, that's the right place to start," the minister said in an interview on CBC News Network.

But Siddiqui said the ban is discriminatory and does not reflect Canadian values like diversity and tolerance.

"It's basically saying, 'If you wear a veil, you cannot be a citizen.' That's the message for us loud and clear," she said.

"What will they do with women who were born and raised here who take the veil? How are you going to strip them of their citizenship?"

Women who choose not to remove their face coverings for citizenship ceremonies can remain permanent residents, Kenney told CBC News.

The citizenship oath is the last step before going from permanent residency to citizenship. Permanent residents can live in Canada but can't vote or run for office.

(Published by CBC News - December 12, 2011)

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