The niqab debate is interesting. A bit in tune with my earlier theme of ‘how far we’ve come,’ I think most Canadians are comfortable with the hijab but, at least for me, the niqab (and burqa) crosses a social line and is fundamentally offensive to women.
I am fully supportive of day-to-day freedom of expression in terms of clothing: people should be able to wear whatever they want (note that I do think that people should wear clothes). I do, however, believe that people should respect the secular nature of our government. When you are dealing with government matters, in terms of the judicial, legislative, and executive process, you need to be open to, and respectful of, the values of our secular government, which values the transparency of an individual’s identity by way of facial recognition.
I had an excellent debate about this issue what a good friend of mine, M-, who suggested that my perspective about having a face uncovered during such things as court proceedings or citizenship ceremonies, was linked to security. She’s right. Being able to see someone’s face is critical to proving their identification.
It could be argued that, as government-issued identification usually makes one look like they’ve been arrested for heroin possession, the person in front of you might not be the person in the photo id that you are holding, and certainly there have been cases of this sort of identity fraud associated with passports. Having said that, we still rely on our sense of sight to confirm someone’s identity.
Someone’s cultural sensibility, under the guise of religion, has no place as a justification for wearing something like the niqab or the burqa when dealing with a governmental situation where identity needs to be confirmed. As Canadians, we bend over backwards to accommodate people’s cultural practices; however, all such accommodations need to be tempered through our cultural lens. People emigrate to Canada because they want to have a life that they believe will be better than the one left in their home countries; they embrace our culture and values. I would argue that, as our values are secular, new Canadians need to embrace those secular values as well.
Not all religious practices can be condoned under the auspices of our Canadian ethos: polygamy, child brides/grooms, female circumcision, etc…The latter list is not condoned by (most) Canadians because those religious practices inherently are based on forcing an individual to do something against their free will, whether through indoctrination or intimidation. The wearing of the niqab and burqa toe that line of indoctrination. You will not convince me that a women born and raised within a fundamentalist religious movement wear the niqab or burqa of their own free will; the issue is not unlike that of those women born and raised within a polygamous religion, an issue that we find it a lot easier to condemn than that of religious attire.
I am the first person to defend the individual’s right to freedom of religion in the day-to-day. If someone wears the niqab or burqa in their everyday life, I’m not happy about that, because I do not believe it a choice that they have, but will respect it.
When someone wants to deal with a government issue that requires identification, they should then respect the Canadian ethos and show their face to the requisite authority (regardless the gender).