Sunday, September 09, 2007

Voting: With or without niqab?

One thing that could hardly be denied about Canada is the fact that it is a very tolerant country. I would almost cite it as an exemplary place, although it is true that in some specific towns around Canada, such exemplary behavior is not necessarily followed. However, the record is reasonably clean, and people with thousands of different cultural backgrounds and beliefs live all across the country and tolerate one another.

In recent days, there has been an interesting political issue related to tolerance to multiculturalism and its boundary with civil obligations: Should Muslim women voters show their faces by removing their niqabs or burkas (sort of veils that cover their faces) to allow full identification?. It is a dilemma that has awakened a big controversy, especially among the electoral authorities, the Canadian Parliament and the Prime Minister.

Elections Canada, the main electoral authority in the country, released last week a policy in which they considered that women wearing niqabs or burkas and not showing their face should be allowed to vote. Such policy contravenes a law passed by the Parliament a few months ago, which requires all voters to identify themselves, thus demanding Muslim women to remove their veils exclusively to vote. However, Elections Canada defends its policy by adding that they will require Muslim women wearing niqabs to show two government-issued ID pieces at the voting booth, or to bring along another voter who confirms their identity.

Elections Canada's safety measures do not seem to satisfy the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who expressed his disagreement with the electoral organization. The Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois, opposition parties in Canada, have spoken against Elections Canada's idea. Even Muslim leaders have allegedly said that removing the niqabs or burkas for identification at the voting booths would not be a big deal (although, interestingly, Muslim women have apparently not issued any opinion about the discussion). Only one party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), has shown a neutral attitude towards the case. Elections Canada, however, seems to be a bit reluctant to pull their policy back, and the Prime Minister appears to be eager to dispute that issue in the Parliament.

I must agree with the Prime Minister and the rest of political players that have shown their concern about Elections Canada's policy. To ask Muslim women to remove their burkas or niqabs before voting should not harm the cultural sensitiveness that prides the country, it is only a safety measure to make sure that the voter is precisely the person who claims to be, so her right to vote can be fully respected and protected. That way, the possibilities of fraud or unlawful voting are minimized.

With so much opposition to the policy, it looks unlikely that Elections Canada can successfully implement their plan, but they will fight to settle it down. Nevertheless, their intentions might be doomed to failure.


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