Nenshi fires back at Kenney for comments on niqab ban

CALGARY – Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi spoke out against the Tories’ niqab ban this week, and named Conservative defence minister Jason Kenney—who introduced the ban—in his tweets on the issue Thursday. Kenney said Friday requiring new citizens to remove the niqab is a “question of common courtesy.”

Nenshi’s comments came a week after Stephen Harper fended off accusations he’s using the niqab debate to distract from his political record.

The federal government is fighting a Federal Court ruling that threw out its ban on the wearing of face coverings during citizenship ceremonies. When new citizens “join the Canadian family,” they should not hide their identities, Harper has said.

In a Wednesday interview with radio host Evan Solomon, Nenshi said he didn’t see widespread support for banning face coverings during such ceremonies in Alberta or Canada.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi at a disability employment event on Oct. 2, 2015. Tom Reynolds / Global News

“This is unbelievably dangerous stuff. It’s not fun anymore. I spoke with a group of mayors and councillors from all over Alberta last week … I stood up and I said, ‘this is disgusting and it is time for us to say stop it — it’s time for us to say this is enough’,” Nenshi said.

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“I thought people would throw buns at me, but in fact I got wild cheers from these small-town Alberta folks because there have been two women who have attempted to take the citizenship oath wearing their niqab. This is an issue that is relevant to absolutely zero of us.”

When asked for his response to Nenshi’s comment that the niqab debate is “disgusting,” Kenney said Friday the “vast majority of Canadian Muslims, for example, do not regard the niqab as anything like a religious obligation.” Kenney added he thinks it’s “unhelpful for some people to suggest that it is.”

“This practice of face covering reflects a misogynistic view of women, which is grounded in a medieval, tribal culture. While the government has no interest in regulating what people choose to wear in their private lives, when you come and swear a public oath, in a court, in front of a judge and your fellow citizens, we think it’s eminently reasonable to ask that for those 30 seconds, you do so openly, publicly and transparently as a proud new Canadian.”

But Nenshi said the Conservatives were spending “millions and millions of dollars of your and my money” on what is basically an “un-winnable appeal in order to appeal to a certain political segment because they think the polls say most people don’t want this. But you know what, this is a ridiculous situation and it’s a dangerous situation.”

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“If you’re doing it so you can gain a few points somewhere in rural Quebec, well, I expect more from my leadership than that.”

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READ MORE: Unpacking the politics – the power of the niqab 

Kenney said Thursday it’s “unfortunate that some politically correct liberals have rushed to the defence” of the niqab, according to reports.

“It seems to me that it’s the mayor and people like him who are politicizing it,” Kenney is quoted as saying.

Nenshi replied on Twitter, posting, “‘People like me,’ eh? Let’s just assume (Jason Kenney) means ‘thoughtful people,’ shall we?”

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Nenshi continued to comment on the issue publicly Friday morning, tweeting he’d been receiving insults, but that he had support.

Kenney’s comments also inspired a #PeopleLikeNenshi hashtag Thursday night, where people poked fun at Kenney’s comments. The hashtag was used more than 14,000 times, mostly in Calgary, since it popped up Thursday afternoon, according to Twitter Canada.

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Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau also took time to contribute to the trending term in a tweet Twitter said had the “single most retweeted use”:

READ MORE: Ottawa asks for stay on citizenship ceremonies pending niqab appeal

NDP candidate Laura Weston, who is campaigning in Kenney’s riding of Calgary-Midnapore, also took the opportunity to weigh in on the controversy.

“Calgarians response on Twitter to Jason Kenney’s statement is a reflection of the lack of time he has spent conversing with them,” said Weston in a statement. “The urgent needs of the riding shouldn’t be compromised because their MP’s political agenda.”

“The niqab issue was a crass political move to use fear and division to score political points, and has forced a wedge between Mr. Kenney and Mayor Nenshi.”

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Kenney’s office answered a request on what the minister meant by “people like” Nenshi in an emailed statement Friday afternoon.

“He obviously meant others who share Mayor Nenshi’s views and who are opposed to the requirement that the public citizenship oath be taken publicly,” said the statement. “Mr. Kenney also referred to the same opinion cohort as ‘some politically correct liberals’ and ‘party leaders and some others,’ (the latter obviously referring to Mr. Mulcair, Mr. Trudeau, and Mr. Nenshi).”

In response to Nenshi’s suggestion that Conservatives are spending “millions” in taxpayer money, Kenney’s office noted the “cost of the appeal in question is in the range of $257,000,” according to reports.

“The government obviously has a responsibility to defend its policies when challenged in the legal system. Polling indicates that 88 per cent of Canadians agree that the citizenship oath should be taken publicly, without face coverings” said the statement. “Eighty-eight per cent is not a ‘certain political segment.’ It is as close to unanimity as one can find on a public issue.”

READ MORE: Harper’s niqab comments spark #DressCodePM Twitter backlash

With a file from The Canadian Press

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