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Some Muslim women unhappy they are required to show their faces during citizenship ceremonies

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Zunera Ishaq launched a legal challenge against Ottawa's niqab ban at citizenship oath-taking ceremonies. A new Conservative bill, introduced Friday, would require all applicants to show their faces while taking the oath.

VINCE TALOTTA / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO

Zunera Ishaq launched a legal challenge against Ottawa’s niqab ban at citizenship oath-taking ceremonies. A new Conservative bill, introduced Friday, would require all applicants to show their faces while taking the oath.

By:  Immigration Reporter, Published on Fri Jun 19 2015

Ottawa has introduced new legislation that requires all Canadian citizenship applicants to show their face while taking the oath of citizenship.

The Oath of Citizenship Act, which was introduced Friday, is designed to make sure candidates are seen and heard reciting the oath of citizenship during ceremonies. The act would require all applicants to swear or affirm the oath of citizenship publicly and openly and in a way that others can verify both “aloud and with face uncovered.”

The new act is in response to a recent Federal Court of Canada decision that ruled it is “unlawful” for Ottawa to order new citizens to remove their face-covering veil or niqab when taking the oath of citizenship.

“The Citizenship Oath is an integral part of Canada’s citizenship ceremony, and where new Canadians embrace our country’s values and traditions, including the equality of men and women,” says Tim Uppal, Minister of State for Multiculturalism.

“This bill will ensure all citizenship candidates show their face as they take the Oath. We believe most Canadians, including new Canadians, find it offensive that someone would cover their face at the very moment they want to join our Canadian family.”

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The Federal Court decision centred on Mississauga resident Zunera Ishaq, who came to Canada from Pakistan in 2008 and successfully passed the citizenship test in 2013. She decided to put her citizenship ceremony on hold after learning she would need to unveil her niqab under a ban introduced in 2011. Her Charter challenge ensued.

Earlier this year, the court told Ottawa that it must immediately lift the ban and allow Ishaq to reschedule a new citizenship ceremony unless it appeals the ruling and receives permission to suspend the order.

The ruling was unusual because the decision was based on the finding that the ban mandated by the immigration minister violated the government’s own immigration laws.

“To the extent that the policy interferes with a citizenship judge’s duty to allow candidates for citizenship the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or the solemn affirmation of the oath it is unlawful,” wrote Justice Keith M. Boswell.

Ottawa indicated at the time it would appeal the ruling.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims, a prominent Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, said the new legislation undermines Canada’s cherished principles of freedom and equality for all.

“It is very disheartening that our government is spending so much time and effort to revive what is essentially a manufactured issue which appears to be being used for political purposes,” said Ihsaan Gardee, NCCM’s executive director.

The original ban was introduced in 2011 by the then Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney. “From the moment the minister announced the policy, many of us felt it’s illegal,” said Ishaq’s lawyer Lorne Waldman.

“It is not the requirement in the law for someone to be seen in front of a (citizenship) judge taking the oath. Signing the paper is all (that’s) required.”

With files from Nicholas Keung

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