On Thursday, I had the privilege of watching my adopted daughter become a Canadian citizen.
The ceremony took place at the Citizenship Court in Surrey. Eighty people, from 18 countries, became citizens of Canada.
It was the second time I have attended citizenship ceremonies. About 15 years ago, I attended one which was part of the Langley Canada Day activities at the airport.
The ceremony was more formal in Citizenship Court, and perhaps I was more focused this time around, both for personal reasons and as a result of the controversy over whether a woman should be allowed to wear a niqab while taking the citizenship oath.
The case of Zunera Ishaq, who convinced a Federal Court judge that she should be allowed to wear a niqab (face covering) at the ceremony, is both legal and political. The federal government has appealed the ruling, and people from the prime minister on down have taken a strong interest in the case.
It has captured a lot of attention nationally and has focused attention on just what is at stake when someone seeks to become a Canadian citizen.
Judge Dane Minor said at Thursday’s ceremony that becoming a Canadian citizen does not mean leaving your country of origin or background behind. But he also emphasized that Canada has values of its own which must be respected by those wishing to become Canadians.
He emphasized that Canadian citizens not only have rights, but they also have responsibilities.
In my opinion, covering of the face, whether by niqab, bandana or mask, is unacceptable for any formal public act directly involving a person.
Faces tell us a great deal about a person. Facial expressions give others clues as to what that person is thinking or feeling. We cannot fully interpret the thoughts of anyone else (and even understanding their words isn’t always easy). Nonetheless, taking the citizenship oath with the face exposed should be essential, as it is when voting, or applying for a driver’s licence or passport.
If Ishaq wants to become a citizen, she should be prepared to show her face, not only to citizenship officials, but also to those in attendance at the Citizenship Court.
Would she be allowed to use the niqab if she was a witness in criminal court, or if she was selected to be on a jury?
I was recently part of a jury selection pool, and one of the points the judge made while the jury was being selected is that being called for jury duty is one of our responsibilities as Canadian citizens.
It’s not usually welcomed by most who are summoned, but they understand that it is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly.
Wearing the niqab is not a requirement of the Muslim religion. Most Muslim women around the world do not wear it. When we were in a town in Sierra Leone which is predominantly Muslim in 2013, I do not recall seeing any woman wearing one.
Becoming a Canadian is important, and should not be watered down by one peron’s individual choice of facial wear. Ishaq has not shown the responsibility which is an essential part of citizenship.