Toronto Court Strikes Down Ban Against Face Veils During Citizenship Oath

| by Kendal Mitchell

On Feb. 6, a Toronto court struck down a 2011 ban that prohibited people from wearing face veils during Canadian citizenship swearing-in ceremonies.

Zunera Isaq, a Pakistani immigrant who wears a niqab face veil, challenged the ban. She said did not take a citizenship oath in January 2014 because she thinks the ban infringed on her personal religious beliefs. 

A niqab is a veil worn by a small percentage Muslim women. It covers the entire face except for the eyes.

Isaq’s attorney said the ban discriminates against Muslim women because it suggests that citizens must assimilate to the Canadian values defined by the government.

“My client feels very strongly that this set a dangerous precedent and the Canadian government has no role in dictating to women what is, or is not, a morally acceptable dress code,” said Naseem Mithoowani, Ishaq’s lawyer. 

While Isaq said she thought the ban violated her personal freedom, Canadian officials said they instituted the ban on face veils, like niqabs and burqas, to positively identify the people during the citizenship ceremonies. 

Officials at the Citizenship and Immigration Ministry said they use the oath as a means to have new citizens embrace Canadian values and traditions.

“While the government of Canada values the diversity that people of all origins bring to the country, it is reasonable to expect citizenship candidates attending a public civil ceremony to show their faces while reciting the oath,” said a Citizenship and Immigration Ministry representative.

Opponents of the face veil restrictions said they think ban shows disrespect for other cultures — an action they said goes against Canadian values.

“(The verdict is) a nice reminder that actually the status quo in our law was to respect people’s religions, and what the government would have to do then [to implement the ban] is change our law to remove that respect,” said Audrey Macklin, law professor at the University of Toronto. 

Sources: Christian Science Monitor  Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons