OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper condemned the wearing of a niqab or face-covering veil as “rooted in a culture that is anti-women” as he defended himself against Liberal charges the Conservatives practice divisive politics.
Harper was clearly stung by a speech Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau gave Monday in Toronto that condemned the Conservatives for rhetoric he said threatens to expose Muslims to the same bigoted fears that Jews faced in the 1930s and ’40s.
Trudeau jabbed again at Harper Tuesday in the Commons, citing recent comments by Conservatives about hijabs and temporary foreign workers. Instead of dividing the country, Harper should “get his priorities straight” and table an economic plan, Trudeau said.
Harper retorted that, “With his speech last night it is clearly the Liberal leader who is taking an irresponsible position with respect to minorities in Canada.”
Harper said “almost all Canadians” agree with his government’s position in appealing the case of a woman who objected to unveiling during a public citizenship oath-taking ceremony. (She had agreed to unveil for identification purposes prior to her citizenship test.)
“Why would Canadians, contrary to our own values, embrace a practice at that time that is not transparent, that is not open and frankly is rooted in a culture that is anti-women,” Harper said.
In his speech, Trudeau had accused Harper of “stoking anxiety and fomenting fear” in a diverse Canada and referred to a range of controversial topics, including the debate over Muslim women wearing the hijab and niqab in courtrooms and other government buildings.
Trudeau said in a free country like Canada, individuals have a right to wear the niqab, while others have the right to dislike it, hold it up as a symbol of oppression, or try to convince fellow citizens not to wear it.
But to use the state’s power to dictate in law what women can and cannot wear — thereby restricting their religious freedom and freedom of expression — is “a cruel joke,” Trudeau said.