UPDATE 1-Rivals accuse Canadian PM of pushing ban on veils to win votes

Thu Sep 24, 2015 10:41pm EDT
 
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(Adds controversy over Quebec separation, pollster's reaction, paragraphs 11-15)

By Randall Palmer and David Ljunggren

OTTAWA, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Canada's two main opposition leaders accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper in an election debate on Thursday of trying to win votes by pushing a ban on Muslim women's face coverings during citizenship ceremonies.

Harper's Conservatives, locked in a tight race with the New Democrats and the Liberals ahead of an Oct. 19 election, say people wishing to become Canadians must show their faces.

Polls indicate the proposal is popular in the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec, where there are long-standing tensions over how tolerant Quebecers should be toward the customs and traditions of immigrants.

Quebec accounts for 23 percent of the seats in the House of Commons, second only to Ontario. The Conservatives hold just five seats in Quebec, where Thursday's French-language debate took place.

The minority separatist Bloc Quebecois party of Gilles Duceppe - trying to revive its fortunes after being crushed in the last election in 2011 - supports Harper's idea.

Both main opposition parties say the ban violates the rights of Canadians, and accuse the Conservatives of fueling prejudice.

"Mr. Harper and Mr. Duceppe want to play on fear and division," Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said. "If a man can't dictate how a woman should dress, we can't have the state telling a woman how she shouldn't dress."   Continued...