Conservative leadership contender Steven Blaney reignites niqab ban debate

Zunera Ishaq talks to reporters outside the Federal Court of Appeal after her case was heard on whether she can wear a niqab while taking her citizenship oath, in Ottawa on Tuesday, September 15, 2015.
Zunera Ishaq talks to reporters outside the Federal Court of Appeal after her case was heard on whether she can wear a niqab while taking her citizenship oath, in Ottawa on Tuesday, September 15, 2015. CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

Steven Blaney, the latest Conservative to throw his hat into the party’s leadership race is planning to reignite the effort to ban niqabs at polling stations, during citizenship oaths and for federal public servants.

His will to ban the religious garb is so strong, he “will not hesitate” to take the unprecedented step of overruling the Supreme Court of Canada should it rule against federal legislation banning the niqab.

During an announcement Monday morning, the former cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government, said he would, should he become prime minister, re-introduce legislation forcing voters, new citizens taking the oath and federal public servants to uncover their faces.

READ MORE: Niqab and ‘old-stock Canadians’ top memorable events from 2015 federal election

“Uncovering your face is a day-to-day requirement for every Canadian whether it is to obtain a driver’s licence or getting a passport for obvious security reasons. This same requirement should apply to all those who swear allegiance to our country, vote in-person at a polling station or work within the federal public service,” Blaney wrote in a statement Monday. 

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“A Conservative government under [my] leadership will not hesitate to use the notwithstanding clause should the Supreme Court oppose the will of Parliament.”

READ MORE: Federal workers union says niqab ban would violate collective agreement

Under Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Parliament and provincial legislatures can override the fundamental freedoms, equality and legal rights that are entrenched in the Charter for a period of no more than five years.


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WATCH: A woman wins her right from the Federal Court to wear her niqab while taking oath during a citizenship ceremony, trumping a government policy requiring one to show their face. 

The federal government has never invoked the controversial clause since the Charter was adopted in 1982. Only Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Yukon have ever used the notwithstanding clause.

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The question of whether women should be allowed to wear niqabs during citizenship ceremonies and at polling stations became a contentious issue during the 2015 election campaign.

It was Harper’s opinion, as well as that of many of his MPs, that those “joining the Canadian family” shouldn’t hide their identities. At the time, the federal government was fighting a Federal Court decision to throw out the government’s ban of face coverings during citizenship ceremonies.

READ MORE: Court rejects feds’ appeal for stay in niqab case

The government was requesting the court’s decision be put on hold in order to facilitate an appeal of the decision to the Supreme Court. Just prior to election day, however, the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the government’s request.

The woman at the centre of the court case, 29-year-old Zunera Ishaq, said she would be identified without her veil for the purposes of the ceremony.


WATCH: Harper says he’d consider extending a ban on face veils, forbidding public servants from wearing them. 

Then, less than two weeks before voting day in the 2015 election, then-prime minister Harper said his government would consider banning public servants from wearing the niqab. The national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada shot back, saying such a ban would contravene their collective agreements — and the Canadian Human Rights Act.

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But Harper pointed to Quebec, where the provincial legislature was moving ahead with similar regulations for its civil service, was acting responsibly.

Though the issue is controversial in many parts of the country, it was thought to play well in Quebec and produced some of the most fiery exchanges during French-language debates.

READ MORE: Nenshi fires back at Kenney for comments on niqab ban

NDP leader Tom Mulcair, who had the most to lose in Quebec, opposed the Conservatives’ proposed ban on niqabs. Mulcair described his position on the issue as a “defining moment” in his political career. In the end, his party fell to 16 seats in Quebec from the 59 won there in 2011, and to 44 seats overall from 95 won in 2011 under then-leader Jack Layton.

Blaney, a Conservative MP from Quebec, is the latest to formally announce a run to replace Harper as Conservative leader.

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