Harper’s Conservatives Lose Attempt to Ban Niqabs At Citizenship Ceremonies

Update:

In the Federal Court ruling, Judge Keith Boswell said the government policy, introduced in 2011, violates the Citizenship Act, which states citizenship judges must allow the greatest possible religious freedom when administering the oath.
In the Federal Court ruling, Judge Keith Boswell said the government policy, introduced in 2011, violates the Citizenship Act, which states citizenship judges must allow the greatest possible religious freedom when administering the oath.

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The federal government has lost its appeal of a lower court ruling that struck down a ban on wearing niqabs at citizenship ceremonies.

Three justices on the Federal Court of Appeal, in a ruling from the bench, said they wanted to rule now so the woman at the centre of the case could take her citizenship oath and vote in the federal election on October 19, 2015.

The case started with a lawsuit from Zunera Ishaq, a devout Muslim who moved to Ontario from Pakistan in 2008 to join her husband. Ishaq agreed to remove her niqab for an official before writing and passing her citizenship test two years ago, but she objects to unveiling in public at the oath-taking ceremony.

In the Federal Court ruling, Judge Keith Boswell said the government policy, introduced in 2011, violates the Citizenship Act, which states citizenship judges must allow the greatest possible religious freedom when administering the oath.

Boswell asked how that would be possible, “if the policy requires candidates to violate or renounce a basic tenet of their religion.”

When Justice Mary Gleason made the ruling Tuesday, Ishaq wiped away tears, hugged her lawyer, shook hands with friends and then left the courtroom to pray.

Ishaq, who had many supporters with her, including her husband and newborn son, told reporters that voting in the coming election is “very important to me.”

“Now I am going to be the Canadian citizen, and I will be enjoying the full rights in Canada as well, so very lucky for me,” she said outside court.

Justice Department lawyer Peter Southey argued unsuccessfully that the lower court judge made errors in his original decision to overturn the ban. But Gleason said the court saw no reason to interfere with the earlier ruling.

The ban on face coverings sparked a bitter debate in the House of Commons when it was first announced.

At the time, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said his government’s ban reflected the views of the “overwhelming majority” of Canadians, including moderate Muslims.

Stephen Lecce, a spokesman for the Conservative campaign, repeated that assertion Tuesday afternoon, adding that “the government is considering all legal options” after losing the appeal.

There is no doubt that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will instruct his conservatives to seek leave to appeal today's decision to the Supreme Court.
There is no doubt that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will instruct his conservatives to seek leave to appeal today’s decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. Harper has 60 days to launch his appeal of the Federal Court ruling in accordance with section 58(1)(a) of the Supreme Court Act.

In a news release, Lecce said the Conservatives would update Canadians on their intention to introduce legislation to ban niqabs at citizenship ceremonies in “the days ahead.”

Conservative candidate and Defence Minister Jason Kenney, who introduced the controversial policy when he was immigration minister, said he made the decision to underscore the public nature of the oath because citizenship defines who Canadians are.

“That’s why we believe that everyone taking the oath of citizenship, a public act, should do so openly, on equal terms, and without covering their face,” he said.

“Today’s ruling not only goes against the democratic will of Canadians, but against long-held Canadian values of openness and the equality of women and men.”

But Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, told CBC News that for the government to pursue yet another appeal at the cost of taxpayers’ dollars “would not make much sense when the ruling seems to be very, very clear and reaffirmed today.”

Harper's conservatives must make an application to seek leave to appeal this latest ruling by the Federal Court to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Harper’s conservatives must make an application to seek leave to appeal this latest ruling by the Federal Court to the Supreme Court of Canada within 60 days of the ruling.

What are the deadlines for filing documents to the Supreme Court of Canada to “seek leave” to appeal?

Leave to appeal stage
To serve and fileYou haveFromProvisions of the Supreme Court Act and Rules
Application for leave to appeal60 daysDate of judgment appealed froms. 58(1)(a)
Respondent’s or intervener’s response30 daysDate file is openedRule 27(1)
Applicant’s reply10 daysService of respondent’s or intervener’s responseRule 28(1)
Application (or conditional application) for leave to cross-appeal (in the case of an appeal for which leave is required)30 daysService of application for leave to appealRule 29(1)
Applicant’s response to application for leave to cross-appeal30 daysService of application for leave to cross-appealRule 30(1)
Respondent’s reply to Applicant’s response to application for leave to cross-appeal10 daysService of response to application for leave to cross-appealRule 31(1)
Motion for leave to intervene30 daysFiling of application for leave to appealRule 56(a)
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