More heat than light in Canada’s election debate on the niqab. Here’s why


niqabIslam is the second biggest religion in Canada. According to 2011 figures, Muslims account for 3.2 per cent of the population. That’s quite small but it sounds weighty if you juxtapose it in a certain way – as Canada’s second faith after Christianity.

The current row over the niqab, the Muslim veil, in Canada is a little bit like that. It’s important but pointless because the numbers we’re actually talking about are small.

The governing Conservative Party has made the niqab a symbol of un-Canadianness or at least, inappropriate to wear at your citizenship ceremony. The Canadian Supreme Court doesn’t agree but Prime Minister Stephen Harper and others persist.

“When you join the Canadian family in a public citizenship ceremony, it is essential that that is a time when you reveal yourselves to Canadians,” Mr Harper has said.

But the problem with this sort of focus on an issue that involves only a minority of Muslim women is that it makes Canada a little less open and racially tolerant.

Mr Harpers’ party proposes that Canada set up a telephone hotline for ordinary people to report on “barbaric cultural practices” carried out by their neighbours. Such as wearing the niqab?

Can you imagine the results for community cohesion?

There have been very real consequences as The Washington Post has reported. A pregnant woman was knocked to the street by teenagers in Montreal last week. She was attacked for wearing a hijab.