A recipe for you. Take a tired government that’s been in power in one form or another for 10 years, add in an economy that’s hitting the skids, a series of Supreme Court rulings that have sent contentious issues back to parliament, and stir. And then add in a controversial piece of legislation in bill C51, a dash of spending scandal and a plan to appeal a court ruling allowing women to take a citizenship oath wearing a niqab. The results are a Conservative Government needing a distraction.
And that’s where Prime Minister Harper’s comments come in. Last week he said this: “We do not allow people to cover their faces during citizenship ceremonies. Why would Canadians, contrary to our own values, embrace a practice at that time that is not transparent, that is not open and frankly is rooted in a culture that is anti-women.”
It’s an effective distraction because it preys on fear of the unknown. The majority of us don’t know what a niqab is, or what it might symbolize. That symbolism alone is a subject of debate even within the Muslim community.
Harper’s comments invoke patriotism. Openness, and diversity are two of the traits Canadians use to define themselves. And even though we don’t admit it, there might be a ring of truth to it. And that combined with fear is a powerful tool.
The above remarks weave an interesting web. The Liberals have pledged support for Bill C-51, putting Justin Trudeau in an odd position. Trudeau supports the lower court’s ruling that women should be allowed to wear niqabs for their citizenship ceremonies. At the same time, he will eventually have to explain how he does that, and supports legislation that could be perceived as being anti-Muslim, and anti-charter. This question will haunt him until he answers.
A debate over Canadian values is a risky gambit that could end up entrapping Harper too. With his comments about the niqab being “rooted in a culture that is anti-women he could easily take the role of “Champion”. But if you look too close the illusion falls apart. HIs government is said to be opaque instead of transparent, and Bill C51 is anti-charter, and anti Canadian values itself. While his comments might have kicked off a discussion that needs to happen at some point, they have also served as a welcome distraction for a tired Conservative government.