Zunera Ishaq has been at the center of controversy in Canada over religious rights and freedoms that has taken front and center in a federal election. Ishaq has been fighting against the current Conservative Government of Canada, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to be able to wear her niqab (conservative Islamic face veil) while attending the Citizenship Ceremony, where a new Canadian takes an oath before receiving their official citizenship.
Zunera Ishaq won her case when a federal judge deemed the law that banned the niqab unlawful. The Conservative government, determined to prevent Ishaq from covering her face during her ceremony, went to an appeals court, twice. Both times the appeals were overturned. The most recent appeal was denied on Monday.
Today, Ishaq’s dream came true. Zunera took part in the private ceremony where she received Canadian citizenship in time to vote in the election on October 19 – and did so while wearing her niqab. Zunera Ishaq spoke with CBC after the ceremony about how she felt.
“I was feeling pretty much that love which I already have in my, within myself for Canada. And you know, the same feelings as I was feeling in the oath, that definitely this is the country to whom I have to be loyal.”
The issue of Zunera Ishaq and the niqab has been divisive in Canada, becoming a hot election topic, pushing the environment, jobs, the economy, and infrastructure to the side. Many blamed the Conservative government of using their fight against Zunera Ishaq to gain votes, which appears to have worked, particularly in Quebec. Critics, like former Premier of Newfoundland Danny Williams in an interview with the CBC, have accused the government of pushing a divisive and even racist agenda in their battle with Ishaq.
“He doesn’t care if he isolates the issues of women or if he isolates the issue of minorities, and even crosses, possibly, that racism line. It doesn’t matter to him. It’s all about getting elected at the end of the day.”
The other two main parties contesting the election, the Liberals and NDP, have chastised Harper for making the niqab an election issue, and have sided with Zunera Ishaq. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was quoted in the Vancouver Sun regarding his party’s support for Ishaq and other Muslim women who veil.
“Our position on this is informed by our understanding of the need to protect peoples’ rights, including religious freedoms and every other freedom enumerated in the Charter of Rights.”
Justin Trudeau, Liberal party leader, and direct challenger to Stephen Harper’s job come election night, doubts Harper when he claims his party imposed the ban partly as a women’s rights issue (and, apparently, one of “Canadian Values”). The National Post quoted Trudeau as he defended Zunera Ishaq’s struggle.
“I think it’s obvious that he’s playing very reckless and dangerous games, pitting Canadians against one another for a narrow political goal. Nobody thinks that Mr. Harper is actually doing this because he’s concerned about women’s rights or equality. That’s been clear from his stances on a wide range of subjects over the years.”
Now that she has become a citizen of Canada, it’s probably a safe bet that when Zunera Ishaq votes on October 19, it won’t be for Stephen Harper.
[Header photo from Getty Images/Elsa]