Federal government drops niqab appeal

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Immigration Minister John McCallum announced today the formal withdrawal of the federal government’s request to the Supreme Court for an appeal of a federal court decision allowing women to wear the niqab at citizenship ceremonies.

The Conservatives filed the appeal during the election campaign leading to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper being accused of using the Islamic face veil as a wedge issue to divide Canadian voters.

“On November 16, 2015, the Attorney General of Canada notified the Supreme Court of Canadathat it has discontinued its application for leave to appeal in the case of Minister of Citizenship and Immigration v. Ishaq,” a statement released by the ministers Wilson-Raybould and McCallum said. “The Federal Court of Canada found that the policy requiring women who wear the niqab to unveil themselves to take the Oath of Citizenship is unlawful on administrative law grounds, and the Federal Court of Appeal upheld this ruling. The government respects the decision of both courts and will not seek further appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.”

“Canada’s diversity is among its greatest strengths, and today we have ensured that successful citizenship candidates continue to be included in the Canadian family,” they added. “We are a strong and united country because of, not in spite of, our differences.”

The the original lawsuit was filed by Zunera Ishaq, who moved to Ontario from Pakistan in 2008, asking the court to allow her to wear the niqab at the public citizenship oath-taking ceremony.

The federal court ruled in favour of Ishaq, who is now a Canadian citizen, finding the Harper government policy introduced in 2011 prohibiting women from wearing the niqab at the oath ceremony in violation of the Citizenship Act.

“How can a citizenship judge afford the greatest possible freedom in respect of the religious solemnization or solemn affirmation in taking the oath if the Policy requires candidates to violate or renounce a basic tenet of their religion?” Justice Boswell argued in his judgement. “For instance, how could a citizenship judge afford a monk who obeys strict rules of silence the ‘greatest possible freedom’ in taking the oath if he is required to betray his discipline and break his silence? Likewise, how could a citizenship judge afford a mute person the “greatest possible freedom” in taking the oath if such person is physically incapable of saying the oath and thus cannot be seen to take it?”