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Canada heads to the polls in less than a week and the race is tight between the country’s three biggest parties, the ruling Conservatives, the Liberals, and the New Democrats.
A lot is on the line in what is being described as one of the most important elections in recent history. Canadians say the struggling economy is their biggest priority, followed by the environment. There are also implications on the health sector, social services, jobs and education. And with deep divisions surrounding the country’s anti-terror laws, its response to the world’s refugee crisis and its role in global counterterrorism operations, the stakes are very high.
But in recent weeks a heated debate has emerged about another issue: the niqab, a full-face veil that some Muslim women wear, and whether or not it has a place in citizenship ceremonies. In 2011, the Canadian government, led by PM Harper, introduced a ban on wearing the niqab during these ceremonies.
However one woman, Zunera Ishaq, challenged the ban, arguing that it violated her rights. She sued the government and won earlier this year. The government appealed but lost that effort in September. But, PM Harper and his ruling Conservatives are not letting go. They’ve turned it into a wedge issue on the campaign trail. They’ve promised to take the fight to the Supreme Court and also want to set up a police hotline to report so-called “barbaric cultural practices”.
Harper’s supporters claim this is about standing up for Canadian values and that the niqab is “rooted in a culture that is anti-women”. But his critics say he’s encouraging fear and suspicion of Muslims and distracting voters from the real issues facing the country.
So, does the niqab really matter in this election or is it a symptom of a larger trend?
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.