Harper’s proposed niqab ban elicits concern

Oct 8, 2015 | News

Taha Ali, president of Humber's Muslim Students Association, feels Harper's anti-niqab rhetoric stems from a plan to alienate the Muslim community and win votes of rural communities

Taha Ali, president of Humber’s Muslim Students Association, says Harper’s anti-niqab rhetoric stems from a plan to alienate the Muslim community and win votes of rural communities. (Photo/Matthew Pariselli)

Matthew Pariselli

Stephen Harper’s heightened anti-niqab stance has triggered condemnation by opposition parties and Muslim groups.

The Conservative party leader suggested on Wednesday that a re-elected government would aim to ban niqabs in the federal civil service.

Harper commended the government of Quebec’s Bill 64, which requires individuals wearing face coverings to remove them when working in the public sector or with government officials.

“I believe the Quebec government has been handling this very controversial issue in a very responsible manner,” the Conservative leader said during an interview with media in Saskatchewan. “We will do exactly the same thing in Ottawa.”

He had dropped hints of his party’s plan since doing an interview with CBC on Monday, but it wasn’t until Wednesday that he cemented his position.

His proposed ban sparked a storm of scrutiny from Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

“He is stirring up the politics of fear and division in a way that, quite frankly, is unworthy of the office he holds,” Trudeau said during a campaign stop in London, Ont. “His priorities are in the wrong place.”

Proposal ‘represents isolation’

Taha Ali, president of the Muslim Students Association at Humber College and the University of Guelph-Humber, was comparatively critical of Harper’s intentions.

“To say that somebody who chooses to wear a certain type of clothing isn’t allowed to work or deal with the federal government is to say that there are certain Canadians who aren’t to be given the same opportunities as other Canadians,” Ali said.

“It represents the isolation of one community. For Muslims anywhere – whether they wear the niqab or don’t, whether they feel it’s necessary or not – it feels like a personal attack.”

Ali said he has discussed the prime minister’s statement with the campus Muslim group and the overwhelming response was one of concern.

“Why is this even an issue that needs to be discussed? As Muslims, if there is a serious security threat, there’s nothing that forbids a woman from removing the niqab for the sake of safety and identification. It’s a non-issue,” he said.

“It represents the isolation of one community…it feels like a personal attack.” – Taha Ali, Humber Muslim Students Association

Ali said that although Harper’s plan is problematic, it also serves as strategic. Harper is securing votes by cultivating a culture of fear among rural populations where people are not accustomed to seeing niqabs.

“The whole plot was to create a fear mongering type of campaign or platform before the election,” Ali said.

In Toronto in the last two weeks, there have been attacks on two Muslim women.

One woman wearing a niqab was  physically assaulted last week at Fairview Mall and the other woman was verbally assaulted this week at the Eaton Centre.