Canada Bans Niqab and Burka at Citizenship Oath

Muslim women hoping to become Canadian citizens will have to remove their face coverings when taking the citizenship oath, according to Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney. Speaking to reporters, Kenney noted that “the citizenship oath is a quintessentially public act. It is a public declaration that you are joining the Canadian family and it must be taken freely and openly” (source: Globe and Mail). Kenney also mentioned that Citizenship judges have expressed concern that they cannot tell whether veiled women are actually taking the oath or not.

What Are Canadian Values?

An editorial in the Globe and Mail noted the conflict between the supposed Canadian values extolled by Kenney and the actual Canadian values enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The oath of citizenship “an oath to the Queen and her successors, and to obey the laws of Canada, and fulfill the duties of being a citizen” should be taken seriously. Does the face need to be bare to demonstrate seriousness? Mr. Kenney says that to be seen, and not to be covered, is in keeping with Canadian values. True, but protection of religious expression, as long as it causes no direct harm to the vulnerable, is also a Canadian value.

Kenney’s complete disregard for freedom of religious expression is particularly interesting given his focus on wooing “the ethnic vote” during the Spring election.

Could Niqab-Wearing Women Be Accomodated?

In Canada, the duty to provide “reasonable accommodation” is enshrined in human rights legislation. According to the Canadian Human Rights Commission:

The duty to accommodate refers to the obligation of an employer, service provider, or union to take steps to eliminate disadvantage to employees, prospective employees or clients resulting from a rule, practice, or physical barrier that has or may have an adverse impact on individuals or groups protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act, or identified as a designated group under the Employment Equity Act.

Sometimes, workplaces have rules, policies, practices and behaviours that apply equally to everyone, but can create barriers based on an irrelevant group characteristic. Canadian human rights legislation recognizes that true equality means respect for people’s different needs. In employment, this means valuing and accommodating differences so that all employees can work to the best of their ability.

The duty to accommodate requires employers to identify and eliminate rules that have a discriminatory impact. Accommodation means changing the rule or practice to incorporate alternative arrangements that eliminate the discriminatory barriers.

The duty to accommodate is most often applied in situations involving persons with physical or mental disability (including previous or current addiction to drugs or alcohol) but it also applies to all other grounds covered by the Canadian Human Rights Act such as race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, marital status, family status, and conviction for which a pardon has been granted.

While this quote is taken from a document directed at employers, unions and service providers, it would apply equally to the Canadian government in this instance. The problem, however, is that Kenney doesn’t see any need to accommodate Muslim women who choose to cover their face. According to CBC reporter Kady O’Malley on twitter:

The minister [Kenney] has made it clear he has no interest in finding a ‘reasonable accommodation’ for hopeful citizen-to-be Muslim women. He explicitly rejected the idea of private or female-only ceremonies. As far as Kenney is concerned, it’s public deveiling or nothing. As such, the well-intended suggestions on how this could be done without forcing Muslim women to make that choice are irrelevant.

It appears as though the Conservative government is confusing “multiculturalism” with “assimilation.”

Perpetrating Racism and Intolerance

While Kenney’s opinion and decision certainly have a direct impact on Muslim women who wish to become Canadian citizens, it may also have wider repercussions. On, Nick Day wrote about the the reams of anti-Muslim comments on mainstream news articles on the topic. He concluded:

What Minister Kenney has done with this policy, therefore, is stoked the already-glowing fires of a growing and violent racism in Canada. He has encouraged all Canadians to antagonize Canadians who are Muslim. And the proof is in the comment section on this article, 1200-strong and growing, all filled with vitriolic hatred for those who are perceived as “different” or “not truly Canadian.”

Reaction to Kenney’s decision and remarks has been mixed in the Muslim community. Some say it would violate their beliefs to uncover their face, whereas others say there is always a way to get around the requirement in legal or security situations. It is disappointing, however, that Kenney simply closed the door rather than indicating interest in a dialogue or a solution.

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Image credit: Alfred Weidinger on flickr


Collette L.
Collette L.5 years ago

Excellent work Canada :)

Frank Hanline
Frank Hanline5 years ago

Who here worries about offending an atheist? How about a Buddhist? What about an idiot from the Westboro Baptist Church (the guys who go around preaching hate and praising dead US troops)?

Now what about islame, er islamb, excuse me islam and their prophet Mohammy, er Mohammad, may pigs piss on his head? Why is that? Do you fear islam?

I am an atheist. The Catholic Church is vile protecting pedophile homosexuals (gay is not a crime but having sex with little kids straight or gay is), Evangelical christians worship themselves, christ is an amalgamation of several godheads Mithra, Horus, Perseus and others to name a few of some virgin and the chief (and horny chief god) liaisons but islame is different.

Sam Harris spells it out here:

Agnes O.
Agnes O5 years ago

Yes, yay for Canada for banning those outrageous "clothings."

Aimi Komori

As a woman it would be impossible for me to speak in defense of such a practice( like wearing a burqa). Some yell that by banning it it's like stepping on a group's rights but I say that by allowing them it's also an aggression against women rights. You might hear good stories about why they have to wear it and how some women actually "choose" to wear it but in the end it all comes down to an objectification of the woman. The female is a sexual object therefore it must be covered to prevent the man from being tempted.
I am sorry but I'm a free human being and an individual and it saddens me to see other women covering themselves and to know that I live in a place where some men think I'm a second class human being that also makes me sad and frustrated.
I just want to make clear that I am very aware that not all muslim people think this way but it's also true that some significant portion does. (as every religion has their fundamentalist group) Canada should not encourage fundamentalist practices.
Abide by the laws of your host the same way I do or go back to where you came from.

Lynne Brittany
Lynne B5 years ago

A country has the right to say no niqab and burka wearing. If I go into a bank I am not permitted to wear a crash helmet. My face must be able to be seen fully, and the difference is???

Joan M.
JB Marks5 years ago


Robby C.
Past Member 5 years ago

And interestingly enough, it appears that in the US, we are going the opposite route. It used to be, that in the military, you dressed as they told you & that was that! Now it seems, that ROTC is allowing Turbins, etc, as part of their army uniform. The US has never embraced Islam like it has these past 3yrs. It sickens me.

Alex H.
Alex H5 years ago

At last,a country that has the courage and sense of self to uphold its culture and way of life!The niqab and burka have absolutely nothing to do with human rights;these shrouds separate these women from society and undermine their ability to interact with others.Most of these women are forced to wear these hideous,medieval bags,and the ones that say they wear them by choice,in my opinion,have a completely skewed view about what is modest,and have probably been brainwashed fron the time they were children.I for one feel violated in my own country,when I see one of these poor shrouded women walking the streets.To me,as a liberated educated woman,they are a nauseating sight and why should I feel uncomfortable,in my own country?!.These garments have no place in a secular democracy that espouses the rights of women.The ill-health ramefacations of wearing burkas and niqabs are never mentioned,why?! Severe vitamin D deficiency is one of the major causes of chronic ill health,osteoporosis and cancer.No one has the right to put a woman in that situation!!!If they do it to themselves,they need to be educated,not only in what is acceptable in Canada,but about their own health too!

Robby C.
Past Member 5 years ago

"Quite frankly, I believe that everyone coming to Canada should follow OUR rules or stay in what ever country you come from"

Interesting- a lot of us in the US feel this same way... of course, we get ragged to no end, but I wholeheartedly agree....

DaretoCare Still

"The problem, however, is that Kenney doesn’t see any need to accommodate Muslim women who choose to cover their face."

No Annie, IMHO the problem is that some people cannot differentiate between so called "religious freedom" and "cultural ideology" It is unfortunate that in an attempt to demonize all things conservative, you chose to write this disengenious piece. That being said, whats next? Coming out in support of enshrining Sharia law in Canada? would it be safe to assume that in the name of this same religious freedom which you so staunchly defend (at the expense of womens rights and freedoms) that you support this as well? Color me disgusted with the entire tone of this submission - in my Canada women are equal, and any politician who makes the effort to address those cultural inequalities which are being imported into our country have my heartfelt thanks, no matter what their political stripe.