The niqab/citizenship issue has taken a back seat to Mr. Harper’s remarkable lack of judgment in leading Canada into the ISIS quagmire, and more recently, to the Mike Duffy trial. Neither of these, however, should distract us from our prime minister’s infamous Victoriaville, Quebec speech. In it he employed the most dishonourable political manoeuvre of an increasingly dishonourable political career.
He stated that the wearing of the Muslim niqab at a citizenship ceremony was “offensive” – even though the practice was not considered “offensive” until Jason Kenney introduced the anti-niqab ruling as recently as 2011.
The argument has swung back and forth since then. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau went over the edge by comparing Harper’s comment to MacKenzie King’s government refusing sanctuary to Jews desperately fleeing Hitler’s Germany. Less extreme and closer to the truth, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair accused Harper of “fostering intolerance.”
Racism, religious bigotry, anti-Semitism and political persecution are not unheard of in Canada. Until Harper’s speech, however, they had become muted, understated and considered less acceptable in Canada than in many other multi-ethnic, multi-racial societies.
What Harper did was pick at the scab and allow the underlying suppuration of racism and religious intolerance to leak out and stain Canada’s social fabric, using his exalted position to make it acceptable for others to do likewise.
Fortunately, a Globe and Mail editorial at the time expressed very succinctly the view of those opposing Harper on this issue.
The editorial stated, “Freedom of religion and conscience are at the very core of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms because they are at the core of what it means to be Canadian.”
It is shameful that a Canadian prime minister should stoop so low as to encourage the most destructive of political instincts, thus betraying the tolerance and acceptance which have been built into the foundations of Canadian society, and reinforced over the years by immigrants, regardless of condition, colour or creed.