October 6, 2015 6:11 pm
Updated: October 7, 2015 4:06 pm

Reality check: Zunera Ishaq says niqab should not be an election issue

WATCH: The Conservatives want to prevent Muslim women from wearing the niqab during citizenship ceremonies. One woman launched a legal battle and much to her surprise, she's become the poster woman for a hot-button issue that some say is rooted in intolerance. Vassy Kapelos reports.

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Zunera Ishaq may have taken her fight to wear a niqab at a citizenship ceremony to court, but she never expected she’d become the face of a major election issue.

“There are so many other issues in the campaign right now, they should be focusing on them,” she told Global News from her home in Mississauga.

Ishaq was unexpectedly thrust in the spotlight earlier in the campaign when the Federal Court of Appeal upheld a ruling Ishaq could wear a niqab during her citizenship oath.

WATCH: Conservative leader Stephen Harper reacts to a question on the niqab issue by saying the federal government will look at the bill issued in the Quebec National Assembly. Harper believes the Quebec government has been handling the controversial issue in a “responsible manner.”

The federal government then asked for a stay of the decision, but its application was denied Monday, essentially clearing the way for Ishaq to take the oath wearing a niqab.

READ MORE: Courts reject feds’ appeal for stay in niqab case

The issue quickly turned political, with Conservatives promising to introduce legislation banning women from covering their face while taking a citizenship oath.

“This was a response to the court ruling,” Conservative candidate Michelle Rempel said. “We believe at the moment of joining the Canadian family your face should be uncovered.”


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WATCH: Liberal leader Justin Trudeau says the niqab issue has been a campaign by Stephen Harper’s conservative government to “distract and deflect” away from economic issues.

But Zunera says some Muslims feel targeted. “Maybe they’re not intentionally doing this but they have done this,” she said. “They’re actually targeting kind of people who are a majority here.”

Polls show a majority of Canadian support the Tories’ position on the niqab and recently Conservatives took it a step further, promising to set up a tip line for Canadians to call if they’re worried about a ‘barbaric cultural practice’ taking place.

EXTENDED INTERVIEW: UBC political scientist Max Cameron discusses how the niqab became a wedge issue in the election.

Former Liberal leader Bob Rae likens the tip line to “Donald Trump on steroids”.

“He’s encouraged a kind of racist reaction to immigration to his own country,” Rae said. “I think it’s very troubling because it creates divisions where we just don’t need them and we’re putting people in the margins who shouldn’t be there.”

READ MORE: Harper distracting voters with niqab, capitalizing on bigotry: Danny Williams

Rempel said any accusations of intolerance are unfounded.

“I don’t think that standing up for the rights of women and people not to be subjected to these types of crimes is anything other than standing up for victims,” she said.

UBC political scientist Max Cameron says this election isn’t the first one to see this kind of wedge issue, pointing to past elections in the UK and Australia.

“My first reaction was I just don’t see that working in Canada, I can’t see how that strategy could play here and then the niqab issue hit and I went, ‘that’s it,'” Cameron said.

“They’ve understood that this is an issue that can work as a wedge in Quebec between the NDP and its supporters and I think it’s brilliant politically, but it’s also incredibly dangerous.”

As for Ishaq, now that the Courts have cleared the way she hopes she’s able to take the oath soon so she can cast a ballot on October 19.

© 2015 Shaw Media

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