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Canadian values under threat

in Featured/To Each Their Own by

So when I first started writing this column, I swore to myself there were certain topics I would just plain ignore.

Topics that, no matter how sorely tempted I was, no matter how bewitchingly they seemed to beckon, blazing their barbaric boneheadedness before my breathless eyes, I would flatly refuse to take the bait and write about.

The ‘veil’ debate was one such topic.

But I also knew that however hard I swore I wouldn’t write about it, the day would eventually come when a Conservative federal government would probably do something so utterly foolish that I would simply have no choice.

On Monday, that day finally came.

Let’s see you work those lips, citizens!

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Monday that effective immediately, face coverings such as the niqabs worn by Muslim women would be forbidden at citizenship ceremonies. As CBC reports:

It’s a “public declaration that you are joining the Canadian family and it must be taken freely and openly,” he said, calling it “frankly, bizarre” that women were allowed to wear face veils while they swear their citizenship oaths.

Well frankly, I find it bizarre that hipsters are allowed to recite the oath through a horseshoe- or toothbrush-moustache, but nobody asked me. I mean how can you take anything they say seriously, with a ‘stache like that, four decades after the seventies? I’d always thought they ought to provide complimentary niqabs for would-be Canadians who show up thinking a handlebar moustache is appropriate in this day and age country. But again, I tolerate and respect diversity. That’s where me and the government differ, I suppose.

If it’s about church and state, fine. But it’s not.

To be perfectly honest, I have no problem with the niqab being forbidden at citizenship ceremonies. This is the reason I told myself I would try to avoid writing on the subject: unlike many of my ‘progressive-minded’ friends, I’m actually in favour of banning religious symbols or paraphernalia at official state functions. I’m actually all about it. I’m from Newfoundland. The Catholic church devastated generations of children in this province. The churches ruled our school system with a fundamentalist iron fist for decades after Confederation, until we had to vote in a national referendum – less than twenty years ago – to give them the boot. I had friends beaten bloody by priests and nuns, and others who committed suicide because they couldn’t handle the bigotry of the Christian doctrine they were fed in schools. Ban religion from public life? Yah, I’m all about it, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find many people who grew up under religious school boards here who are not.

But what I do take issue with are the hypocritical, bigoted reasons which Kenney proceeded to give for banning the niqab. From CBC:

Kenney said he’s had complaints from MPs and citizenship court judges that it’s hard to tell whether people with their faces covered are actually reciting the oath of citizenship, which he says is a requirement to become Canadian. Wladyslaw Lizon, a Conservative MP from Mississauga, Ont., brought it to his attention, Kenney says.

But what I do take issue with are the hypocritical, bigoted reasons which Kenney proceeded to give for banning the niqab.

(incidentally, Lizon’s one claim to fame as an MP has been his efforts to pass the “Pope John Paul II Day Act”, designating April 2 of each year as a national day of memory in honour of Pope John Paul II. Well, at least we know which side he’s batting for!)

(although in all honesty, his fellow MP Andrew Kania argued in favour of the bill that the reason Canada needs to honour Pope John Paul II is not because he was the big enchilada, but because “he was one of the architects of the defeat of communism”. Yes, these people are real! They’re not just figments of a bad British comedy! They’re live and lurking in your Parliament as we speak!)

But anyhow. Back to Jason “It’s hard to tell whether people with their faces covered are actually reciting the oath” Kenney.

Faking the oath?

Really now. So you thought that maybe they were just pretending to mouth the oath? After going through the – let’s be honest – many-years-long ordeal of background checks and money and studies and tests and more background checks and more money…they’re gonna go through years of time and effort and money and then go before the judge and think “tee hee, I’m just gonna mouth the words, this’ll be funny, tee hee hee!”

Has Jason Kenney actually cognitively moved beyond the kindergarten sandbox?

Or perhaps he’s received tip-offs that devout Muslims are just pretending to speak the oath. You know, from the hidden mics they’ve planted underneath those burqas, I guess? Or perhaps some of these devout Muslims got a bit too drunk at the local bar and let it slip after a few too many rum-and-cokes that they’d just mouthed the words?

Seriously, Kenney. Get real b’ye. It’s one thing to have an ideological position on the role of church and state. Those of us who do, have very rational, thought-out arguments on why we oppose religious symbols in public life. But by spinning out fantasy delusions like “they might just be mouthing the words” and by enacting double standards (let’s just ban Muslim garments, and let the Christians and the Jews and the Sikhs all continue wearing theirs) you’re making the rest of us look like hypocritical bigots.

The equality ‘argument’

Barbara Kay in the National Post, writing to support the move, presents the other argument – which is characterized by a lot of fanfare about the rights of women and showing that Canada does not approve of women having to cover themselves and being treated as less than full and equal persons. Anyway, she points out, they only have to remove the veil for a few seconds, and then “she can replace the face cover afterwards.”

Really? That’s your great strategy for equality? Take off the burqa for 5 to 10 seconds and blam! Equality! So living these values means…paying lip service to them for a couple minutes?

…perhaps some of these devout Muslims got a bit too drunk at the local bar and let it slip after a few too many rum-and-cokes that they’d just mouthed the words?

The fact is, Kenney and Kay and all the others pushing this policy represent precisely that which they are pretending to oppose: fake lip-service to “Canadian values”.

Let us remember, after all, that this is a government which ignored the Canadian values of democracy and dialogue, by ignoring the vast majorities of Canadian experts and professionals who argued that the Conservative crime bill is going to undermine Canada’s achievements in the field of justice and actually make our streets more dangerous.

A government which ignored the Canadian values of democracy and dialogue by ignoring the unprecedented national protests over their proroguing of Parliament – undermining the principles of this country’s democratic system merely in order to stay in power.

A government which was found in contempt in connection with accusations one of its ministers lied to Parliament, and which is currently protecting another minister who, it is argued, abused his position by calling a Search and Rescue aircraft to pick him up from holiday and take him to work one morning. Canadian values of accountability, anyone?

A government which is about to shut down the St. John’s Marine Rescue Sub-station – thereby endangering the lives of thousands of the people it purports to represent. Canadian values of compassion and looking after each other, anyone?

The fact is, there is indeed a problem – and a danger – arising from falsely paying lip service to the principles on which this country was founded. But that problem – that danger – does not come from niqab-wearing Muslims. It comes from business suit-wearing politicians who are undermining the core principles and democratic institutions of this nation: principles of tolerance, dialogue, diversity, and democracy.

Veiled threats and double standards

Kenney, in his comments announcing the veil decision, explained:

“There are four legal requirements to become a Canadian citizen: firstly, to have a basic knowledge of Canada; secondly, a capacity to speak one of our two official languages; thirdly, to have been a resident in Canada for three out of five years, to have actually lived here and demonstrated a commitment to the country and finally, to take the oath of citizenship.”

And how many Conservative MPs actually meet very many of these requirements? How many speak French, know that St. John’s is not in New Brunswick, and demonstrate “a commitment to the country” (and not just its overpaid corporate CEO’s)? In a country where so many of those in charge are flagrantly ignorant of the first requirements, it’s hard to believe the sincerity of this sudden obsession with that solitary last requirement.

In the past few months, we’ve seen Canada pull out of international climate change efforts, scuttle efforts to reform international banking and make it more fair and just, eliminate the Wheat Board’s support for small farmers (possibly illegally), pass a crime bill which is almost certain to increase crime and in the face of overwhelming expert advice to the contrary, pass a bill which will eliminate gun control measures and allow armour-piercing sniper rifles and other urban combat weapons into our communities. And more.

Who’s the real threat to Canadian values again?

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