Harper draws fire over veiled voting

Outremont by-election candidates condemn Stephen Harper’s opposition towards Muslim women voting while veiled.
Independent candidate Romain Angeles says the ongoing debate over the niqab is simply “a game Harper is playing to polarize society. He wants to create more fear against Muslims and foreign culture, it’s very manipulative.”
Harper’s sudden decree that Muslim women must unveil themselves for identity verification purposes when voting has surprised many since the presence of the niqab, a veil worn by Muslim women who conceal their faces for religious reasons, is not new to Canada.
For decades in Canada, non-religious individuals have lived comfortably alongside partially- and fully-covered Muslim women. This fact alone has spawned various questions about the motivations behind Harper’s opposition to Elections Canada’s decision to allow Muslim women to vote with their faces covered.
Elections Canada has remained strongly opposed to the demands of Harper to amend the rules; and, in a speech given on Sept. 10, 2007, Marc Mayrand, Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada, reiterated the rules of the Canada Elections Act. He explained that there is nothing stating that voters must absolutely have their visual identities verified.
“Until June 22, 2007, the Canada Elections Act stated that registered voters could go to the polling station, simply state their name and address and be issued a ballot,” said Mayrand.
“In June, Parliament passed new provisions requiring electors to prove their identity and residential address before being able to vote. There are several ways of doing this under the Act that do not require confirming the identity of the elector by using a photo ID.”
According to Angeles, Prime Minister Harper’s sudden opposition to the niqab is unfounded, deeming it a “continuation of the racist policies of the federal government.” Angeles was running as an independent in the riding of Outremont.
Sharing this opinion is Mahmood Raza Baig, another independent candidate in the Outremont by-election. Baig believes that “our politicians are wasting a lot of time creating problems for press coverage.
“Harper should be focusing on our economy, job creation, education, and our medical system instead of breeding discrimination,” he said.
In addition to being bigoted, Baig believes that Harper’s opposition to the niqab is unsubstantiated. As a Muslim himself, he explains that the niqab is not a matter of concealing one’s identity.
“Muslim women are not trying to hide their identity with a niqab, they are just expressing their religious beliefs,” said Baig, “something they are entitled to do in Quebec, such freedom is a beautiful thing.”
Baig says that the niqab is simply misunderstood in Western culture.
“Wearing a niqab doesn’t mean that you are an extremist, or a part of a terrorist group. Some women truly like wearing a niqab, just like some women feel better wearing lipstick. The point is, it’s not a political issue.”
While the debate has sparked controversy and discussion all over Canada, the president of Concordia’s International Student Association (CISA), Elie Chivi, has also voiced his opinion on the issue.
Opposed to the beliefs of Angeles and Baig, Chivi feels that the veiled voting discussion is somewhat redundant, and believes that Muslim women should have to show their faces when voting, asserting that they “should be held to the same standards as everyone else.”
“Of course I am understanding of the fact that it’s against their beliefs. I’m from the Middle East myself,” said Chivi.
“But this is Canada, when you leave the house you are bound by the same standards as everyone else,” he continued.
Chivi explained that allowing a religious custom to interfere with a political process goes against Canada’s segregation of church and state.
“If you want to separate religion from politics then voting is one of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed. People are free to practice their own beliefs, but when we have elections or other political events everyone should respect the same rules, and religion should not have a bearing.”
Angeles looks to other nations for examples, citing that “we are not the first country to have this situation, the solution is so simple it’s almost silly.
In Morocco, the elections organizers simply hire Muslim women to work at the polls because according to Muslim tradition, there is no conflict caused by a woman unveiling herself to another Muslim woman.”
This debate is exceptionally complicated because it touches on the constitutionally-defined fundamental freedom of religion, which, needless to say, leaves many policy-makers and legal authorities at unrest.
In addition, the validity of Harper’s arguments on this issue have come under public scrutiny. Without amendments to the Canada Elections Act dictating that people must visibly verify their identities with photo ID, Harper’s case currently holds little implication for voters.
With no conclusion in sight, it appears as though politicians and the general public alike are left to grapple with this intricate problem themselves, until a veil can be lifted on the solution.


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