Carrying on from the French ban on veils last April, Canada has now banned face veils during citizenship oaths. There are also discussions in Quebec of banning veils in government buildings, schools and hospitals.
Firstly, I have to apologize and amend slightly what I said about the French ban – in its enforcement, it appears that the law is being applied against those wearing the niqab, or partial face veil, and not only the burqa, or full face veil. My understanding when the law came into force was that it only banned the burqa, which was odd as there were no burqa-wearers in France, but there were, and presumably without the law would still be, several thousand niqab-wearers. Unfortunately I still can’t track down the original law in order to make sense of this, but I will keep at it.
As for the Canadian law, obviously it applies to a very specific environment and circumstance, and it is one of the few times when I suppose you can make a legitimate claim for preventing people baring their faces – you want to make sure that you’re giving citizenship to the right person. But obviously there are ways to confirm a person’s identity that wouldn’t require banning the veil – they could be fingerprinted (in fact, I would assume that they are fingerprinted at some point during the process), or alternatively, the would-be Canadians who wear the veil could remove it in private, with a female attendant, and then be allowed to wear the veil during the ceremony.
The reality is that, hopefully, no one makes it into the oath ceremony by accident. And moreover, I would strongly doubt that the oath of citizenship would be binding if the person took it either by accident or through deception.
Like the French ban, it would appear that this law is, at least in part, symbolic, and like the French law, the message it makes seems to be a negative one. It still works from the assumption that people who wear the veil are not to be trusted, that at least some portion of them must be up to something, and that wanting to wear the veil is somehow not Canadian. Admittedly, I’m not Canadian, but I really can’t believe that any of those things are true (possibly, like in Britain, not eating pork products is simply unthinkable for the Canucks).
The problem with laws banning the headscarft or veil, or laws preemptively banning shari’a, is that they imply that whereas we’re all in favor of freedom of religion, that freedom doesn’t extend to the actual public practice of all religions. There would be no question that passing laws in Canada or France that refused citizenship to anyone who declared themselves to be Muslim would be a serious violation of the essential belief in freedom of religion. But passing laws that prevent Muslims from practicing their religion – especially in public – are making the same statement. And banning people from wearing a demonstration of their faith during their oath of citizenship makes it sound as though they’re being expected to choose between that faith and that citizenship.