Ottawa says will ask for stay on citizenship ceremonies pending niqab appeal

OTTAWA — The federal government says it will ask a judge to prevent would-be Canadians from wearing face coverings while taking the oath of citizenship.

Conservative candidate Denis Lebel, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Quebec lieutenant, says the government wants a stay of a recent Federal Court of Appeal decision quashing the so-called niqab ban.

The government has already said it intends to seek leave to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Zunera Ishaq, a devout, 29-year-old Muslim woman, successfully argued that the ban violates the Citizenship Act, which says candidates must be allowed he greatest possible religious freedom when they take the oath.

In a statement, Lebel says the government wants to prevent citizenship candidates from taking the oath with their faces covered until the Supreme Court can hear its appeal.

He says the government’s position is consistent with Canadian values.

“As the prime minister has said, most Canadians find it offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment where they are committing to join the Canadian family,” Lebel says in the statement.

“We believe that all citizenship candidates should take the oath of citizenship publicly with their face uncovered, which is consistent with Canadian values of openness, social cohesion, and equality.”

The government appealed the original Federal Court decision, but lost. On Wednesday, the three-judge appeal panel ruled from the bench, saying they wanted to proceed quickly so that Ishaq could become a citizen in time to vote.

In order for her to do that, the Citizenship and Immigration Department must formally invite her to a ceremony. Several are scheduled in Ontario between now and Oct. 19 and one of her lawyers said Wednesday there is no reason she couldn’t be added to the list.

People seeking to appeal a decision to the Supreme Court have 60 days from the date of the decision to file the required paperwork. In this case, the government has to act by mid-November.

It could take the Supreme Court up to three months to decide whether to hear the case and if it goes to trial, the decision could take months.

Lebel has said if re-elected, the Conservatives would re-introduce and adopt legislation banning face coverings during citizenship oaths within 100 days.

The niqab ban was inspired in part by Quebec’s experience with the so-called charter of values, a document introduced by the Parti Quebecois government which banned the display of overtly religious symbols by people in the public sector.

While the charter was extensively criticized and partly blamed for the defeat of the PQ government in 2014, the issue of the niqab still resonates in the province, where the Conservatives hope to increase their seat count.

That’s likely why it was left to Lebel, a Conservative candidate in Quebec, to announce the plans to seek a stay, rather than Justice Minister Peter MacKay, who is not running for re-election.

The Canadian Press

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