In the Blog

voting in canada and the niqab, part II

September 10th, 2007     by Thea Lim     Comments

Back in April, I wrote a furious post about the hijab/niqab/burka in Quebec, and the hard time it was having. After an Ottawa soccer player was kicked off the pitch in Quebec for wearing a hijab and a corrections officer in Quebec was fired for the same reason, women who wore the niqab in Quebec were being barred from voting unless they revealed their faces. This made me rage!

But fiery comments on that post actually made me reconsider, if not my stance, at least my wording. One commenter suggested that maybe I was getting my knickers in a twist about an issue that really wasn’t about racism or sexism, and suggested that screaming “Bigotry” at every incident that even hints of unfairness, distracts and prevents us from fighting the truly indisputable instances of oppression. Some commenters noted that in Muslim countries niqabis are asked to reveal their faces when they vote and it’s not a big deal - so why I was getting all steamed? Could it be that I was just another bleeding heart liberal (oh the pain!), making sweeping statements about a group of women I didn’t understand? (For the record, I’m not Muslim.)

The whole experience left me confused. While I wasn’t about to declare Quebec, or Canada really, an oasis of tolerance, perhaps I was over-reacting.

Fast forward to today, Elections Canada has ruled that veiled women will not have to show their faces when they vote. This time, it’s someone else’s turn to get enraged: Stephen Harper has said that he “profoundly disagrees” with Election Canada’s ruling and will fight it.

Having been schooled last time (and you know, a great advantage to being a Shameless blogger is that people will disagree with you, and maybe even help you clarify what you really think), I’m hesitant to scream “Bloody Muslim-hating racist!”. But am I being too optimistic in thinking that Harper’s motivations are his dedication to the rule of law, not his dislike for Muslims?

Was it really just a coincidence that niqabis were being barred from voting in Quebec at the same time as women and girls were being discriminated against in sports and work? Is it really just a coincidence that Harper has a slew of other opinions I don’t agree with (he’s a fan of privitasation, his government introduced massive cuts to the Status of Women Offices, he’s against same sex marriage) AND he’s also p.o’ed that veil-wearing women are going to vote with their veils on?

Perhaps the most interesting part of this whole thing is that the Canada Council on American-Islamic Relations is also p.o’ed with Elections Canada - though for different reasons. They said nobody even bothered to ask them what they thought,** and according to them, Muslim women who wear the veil would’ve had no problem showing their faces to vote.

So maybe I am a bleeding heart liberal after all.

**If it redeems me, part of what made me really angry about April’s scandal re: veiled women and voting, was that no Quebec election officials bothered to check on voting protocol in Muslim countries, which to me, seems like the most obvious way to figure out the best way to accomodate veiled women at the polls. And as far as I can tell, Elections Canada didn’t either.

Tags: news flash, race and racism

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