In this opinion piece former Muslim Canadian Congress president Farzana Hassan posits that the niqab looms large over an Ontario court as a symbol of Islamist oppression of Muslim women. She is responding to a current debate in the Canadian courts. The Ontario Court of Appeal is debating a test case of a Muslim sexual-assault complainant who insists on remaining both invisible and anonymous, yet needs to testify in court. The woman enjoys support from a motley group of activists who are citing her right to religious freedom. For instance, the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) cautions against using this case to set a precedent, the feminist group wants the court to accommodate the woman’s request.
Hassan describes the niqab as a symbol of deep-rooted sexism, patriarchal control and inveterate misogyny. She claims it remains the most pernicious symbol of female subjugation, as many believe the niqab greatly stigmatizes and marginalizes women in society.
A majority in the House of Commons says the Canadian government must apologize for the torture ordeals of three Muslim-Canadian men detained in Middle East jails and immediately overhaul the country’s national security review regime. The New Democratic Party brought a motion to have the full Commons endorse a June parliamentary committee report that urged the government to implement recommendations from two earlier judicial inquiries.
The committee had examined the government responses to inquires by Justice Dennis O’Connor into the Maher Arar scandal, and Justice Frank Iacobucci into the detentions abroad of three other men who were tortured in Syrian or Egyptian jails.
The Conservative government has already apologized to Maher Arar, and awarded him $10.5 million in compensation after O’Connor found he was deported to torture in Syria largely because of faulty Canadian intelligence. While there were similar findings of inflammatory labelling by Iacobucci in the cases of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El-Maati and Muayyed Nureddin, the government has denied liability in civil lawsuits filed by the men.
The federal government has turned down the proposal of a Toronto-based Islamic organization to introduce legislation prohibiting Canadian female individuals from wearing niqabs and burqas.
The Muslim Canadian Congress had called upon the Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to ban the wearing of niqabs and burqas in all public dealings by introducing new laws.
Studying all the aspects, the Conservative government last week refused to consider the proposal, contending “in Canada people are free to make their own decisions”. “In an open and democratic society like Canada, individuals are free to make their own decisions regarding their personal apparel and to adhere to their own customs or traditions of their faith or beliefs,” said a statement issued by the office of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
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A Canadian Muslim group is calling on the Canadian government to ban the wearing of the burqa in public, saying the argument that the right to wear it is protected by the Charter’s guarantee of freedom of religion is false.
The Muslim Canadian Congress called on the federal government to prohibit the two garments in order to prevent women from covering their faces in public – a practice the group said has no place in a society that supports gender equality.
“To cover your face is to conceal your identity,” Congress spokeswoman Farzana Hassan said.
Mohamed Elmasry, former president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, disputed suggestions that the garments pose a security threat, saying only a minority of Muslim women living in Canada feel the need to conceal their features in public. Elmasry stated that women should have the freedom to decide whether they wish to cover their faces, and that a ban would limit freedom of expression.
Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney claims he is reshaping Canada’s approach to immigration and multiculturalism. Kenney claims: “We want to avoid the kind of ethnic enclaves or parallel communities that exist in some European countries. So far, we’ve been pretty successful at that, but I think it’s going to require greater effort in the future to make sure that we have . . . social cohesion rather than fracturing.” Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress applauds Kenney’s efforts. “He’s standing up for Canadian values. I would like every politician to stand up for this country the way Jason Kenney has.”
Kenney has recently, among other recent controversies, criticized Muslim-led attempts to censor Canadian writers through human rights commissions, and slamming certain groups that would stoke Middle East enmities, leading to accusations in Arab communities, and in some corners of the media, that the Minister has abandoned an unprejudiced approach and made Canada a stooge for the so-called Israel lobby: The CAF called him a “professional whore;” the Toronto Star a “professional fool”.