Tory Minister Faces Veil Controversy

Tory minister faces veil controversy

By ELIZABETH THOMPSON, Parliamentary Bureau
The Toronto Sun
Last Updated: March 18, 2010 6:23am

OTTAWA – Women who wear the niqab should have to show their faces when dealing with the federal civil service, says Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

Kenney said he believes in personal liberty and opposes regulating what people wear.

“On the other hand, when it's necessary we do expect people to show their face in … obtaining public services,” he said Wednesday. “In my own ministry, when individuals make an application for immigration or a visa and they're interviewed by a Canadian public servant, they're required to show their face.”

Kenney said the reason women are asked to remove their niqab, which covers the lower half of the face, is so officials can see their responses and they can communicate their problem. In those cases, the department arranges for a female civil servant “as often as possible,” he said.

Kenney's comments come as a storm of controversy has erupted in Quebec over whether women who wear the niqab should have to remove their face veil in certain circumstances such as during a French class for immigrants.

The controversy was further fuelled this week when Quebec's Human Rights Commission ruled that women wearing the Islamic face covering have to remove it for their health card photo and cannot demand to be served by another woman.

The commission also ruled in favour of the hijab, which covers the head but not the face. A client had complained about being served by a health board employee wearing a hijab, but the commission ruled the headdress did not have any bearing on the service they received.

Kenney's comments come a day after the UN Human Rights Commission's expert on minority issues tabled a report saying that while Canada had an impressive record, significant and persistent problems affect ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. Gay McDougall cited negative experiences in public schools for black and Asian Canadians as well as higher unemployment and lower income rates, even for those who have higher education levels than most Canadians.

Kenney said Canada is viewed around the world as a model of equality of opportunity and minority rights.