There’s a push to have Alberta Premier Jason Kenney join his former federal colleagues in apologizing for a controversial niqab policy that was introduced a decade ago.
The call ties back to when the premier was the federal immigration minister. In 2011, he announced a ban on Muslim women wearing niqabs while taking the citizenship oath.
In the past week, Conservative MPs have acknowledged that the policy stoked Islamophobia.
The NDP, Alberta’s Official Opposition, wants Kenney, the “architect of the policy,” to apologize for what it calls promoting hatred towards Muslims.
“I’m calling on Jason Kenney to immediately apologize to Muslim Canadians for his racist words and actions,” said Jasvir Deol, NDP Critic for Multiculturalism, on Tuesday.
“These words and actions from a federal government minister are the first steps towards the rising anti-Muslim violence we see today.”
But Kenney says he has nothing to apologize for.
“My record on these matters could not be more clear,” he said Tuesday.
The premier argued that as a minister, he supported and welcomed Muslims to Canada.
“I’ve never supported a proposed ban. To the contrary, I’ve always said Canada is a country that protects and respects religious freedom and pluralism, and the government has no business regulating what people wear,” he said.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said that was a bald-faced lie, something that has become a pattern for this premier, and it’s costing him the trust of Albertans.
“Jason Kenney is the most fundamentally dishonest political leader that I have seen in the country of Canada throughout the whole time of my political career,” she said Wednesday.
In a 2014 tweet, Kenney defended the policy, saying he believed people should take the citizenship oath with faces uncovered.
“This practice of face covering reflects a misogynistic view of women, which is grounded in a medieval, tribal culture,” Kenney said in 2015.
“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.”
Kenney clarified Tuesday’s comments on Wednesday, saying he believed the question was about a blanket ban on niqabs, not the specific policy he pushed.
“Yes, I do think it’s entirely reasonable that when people are making a public oath in a court, when they are testifying, when they are providing identification and when they’re boarding an airplane that they should do so with their identity available and their faces uncovered,” he said.
“That’s a reasonable request.”
The federal government withdrew a court challenge involving the niqab after the Conservatives lost the 2015 election.
In the days after the fatal attack on a London Muslim family on June 6, some of Kenney’s former federal colleagues are apologizing for the niqab ban.
Tim Uppal, MP for Edmonton Mill Woods and a former federal Conservative cabinet minister, said that such policies have consequences and he should have used his seat at the table to push against divisiveness.
“I regret not being a stronger voice and sincerely apologize for my role,” he wrote on Facebook Sunday.
“It does lead to casting a shadow over a community. It leads to stereotyping, and in this case, would lead to Islamophobia,” he told 630 CHED on Tuesday.
Calgary Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel Garner also apologized.
On June 8, she wrote on her blog: “One of my biggest regrets in my public service was being silent during the 2015 general election campaign on the wrongness of the barbaric cultural practices tip line and the proposed niqab ban.”
“Those policies were wrong. To the Muslim community, I’m deeply sorry for not fighting it then. I can assure you I won’t make the same mistake again,” she said.