Government bans veils during citizenship ceremonies

Mon Dec 12, 2011 4:36pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - In a move likely to increase tension with Canada's Muslim minority, the government said on Monday it would bar all women wearing face coverings from taking part in citizenship ceremonies.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said he had received complaints from citizenship judges and parliamentarians about veiled women taking the oath to formally become Canadian.

"Requiring that all candidates show their faces while reciting the oath allows judges and everyone present to share in the ceremony," Kenney said in a speech in Montreal.

"The citizenship oath is a quintessentially public act. It is a public declaration that you are joining the Canadian family and it must be taken freely and openly."

Kenney's announcement will affect women wearing the niqab - a face veil with an eye opening - as well as the burqa, which has a full face covering with a mesh area to allow vision.

The move might well trigger a court challenge from those who say the restriction violates freedom of religion provisions under Canada's constitution.

The most recent figures from Statistics Canada show that, in 2001, around 2 percent of the population was Muslim. Community leaders say the figure now is more like 3 percent of the country's 34.5 million people.

The Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations said Kenney's move questioned the sincerity and good faith of some citizenship applicants and not others.   Continued...