Mulcair’s Niqab Stance: Principle or Politics? - New Canadian Media

Mulcair’s Niqab Stance: Principle or Politics?

by Fred Maroun in Ottawa, Ontario Advocates of the Conservative government’s ban on the wearing of the niqab during citizenship ceremonies claim that the policy supports…

by Fred Maroun in Ottawa, Ontario

Advocates of the Conservative government’s ban on the wearing of the niqab during citizenship ceremonies claim that the policy supports women’s rights. For Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, it’s a matter of “fundamental equality between man and woman.

However, if women wear the niqab freely, then banning the niqab can be considered an infringement on a woman’s right to choose and an infringement on her freedom of religion. This seems to be the position adopted by NDP leader Thomas Mulcair in the recent Munk Debate on Canada’s Foreign Policy,

Mulcair’s stance surprised some voters. Until the day before the French language debate, held on Sept. 26, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was the only one of the three leading party leaders to clearly oppose the ban during this election period. 

This leads us to ask the following question: is Mulcair taking a principled stand or did he choose the most politically advantageous position?

NDP falling behind as election nears

Public opinion polls in late August showed the NDP far ahead at 37.4 percent, but the party appears to be losing ground. The NDP lost support in later polls but was still in a tight three-way race with Liberals and Conservatives—that is, until the French language debate in which Mulcair opposed the ban.

Following the debate, the NDP lost even more support across the country, particularly in Quebec. As of time of press, the NDP is in third place behind the Liberals and the Conservatives at 27.2 percent support, federally; its support in Quebec—which had peaked at 49.6 percent—is now at 33.9 percent. 

If Mulcair’s stand is politically motivated, it does not appear to be working.

Mulcair’s comments even seemed to frustrate members of Canada’s Muslim population. He stated at the debate, “If some of those women are oppressed, we need to help them, and it’s not going to be depriving them of their Canadian citizenship and rights that will do that,” hinting that some women are forced to wear the niqab. 

Shireen Ahmed, a Muslim journalist based in Mississauga, responded to this statement in a commentary published on New Canadian Media: “Therein lies the problem. Muslim women do not need to be helped nor do they need saving,” she said.

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Mulcair’s comments even seemed to frustrate members of Canada’s Muslims population.[/quote]

The two principles one typically invokes to argue against the ban are women’s right to choose what they wear and freedom of religion. The problem with this is that, by Mulcair’s own admission, women who wear the niqab may not be in a position to make a choice. As to freedom of religion, one would be hard-pressed to argue that the wearing of the niqab is mandated by any respectable religion. 

This practice, which is dehumanizing to women, is mandated only by a very marginal sect of Islam that is very foreign to the core Western values of freedom and equality.

Mulcair’s stance is further compromised by the comments of other NDP candidates. One of the NDP’s best known Quebec MPs, Alexandre Boulerice, said to The Globe and Mail, “It seems to be a symbol of oppression, which is not something that pleases me”.  

Another NDP candidate, Jean-François Delisle, also disagreed with Mulcair’s position, stating that if elected the party should amend the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to make it a legal impossibility.

A pattern of behaviour

This is not the first time that Mulcair has stood up for Muslims in a way that is less than convincing.

In September 2013, Mulcair slammed Quebec’s proposed “charter of values,” saying, “To be told that a woman working in a daycare centre because she’s wearing a head scarf will lose her job is to us intolerable in our society.” Yet he was late in denouncing the charter, long after Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

After an attack on Canada’s parliament by a lone gunman in October 2014, Mulcair insisted that the attacker, Michael Zehaf Bibeau was “a criminal, but not a terrorist.” The fact that Bibeau was indeed a terrorist was later further proven by the release of a video that he’d made before the attack.

In February 2015, Mulcair denounced Harper’s linking of mosques to radicalization, yet some mosques have promoted hatred of the West in the past. As Muslim author Tarek Fatah wrote, “Even on the day Islamist Jihadi Terrorists killed four Jews in Paris in the name of Islam, and just two days after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, an Imam in a downtown Toronto mosque could not resist the urge to pray to Allah for Muslim victory over Christians and other non-Muslims.”

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]If Mulcair’s stand is politically motivated, it does not appear to be working.[/quote]

Mulcair is the only leader of a major party to oppose Bill C-51, a bill that appears to be opposed by most Canadian Muslims.Yet, some moderate Muslims, including spokespeople from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, support the bill.

It seems that Mulcair’s opposition to the niqab ban is neither based on principle nor based in politics. Perhaps it and other positions he has taken in a clumsy defense of Muslims are meant to appease his party’s radicals who are uncomfortable with Mulcair’s support of Israel. His position on the niqab has certainly disappointed some voters, including myself.

I have written that I support Mulcair, and I still do. I think that his policies, particularly on the environment and scientific research, are a much needed change. I also believe that he would be a competent prime minister. 

However, I cannot help but think that if Harper manufactured the niqab question as a cynical wedge issue to distract voters, then perhaps he has succeeded, at least as far as the NDP is concerned.

Editor’s Note: This commentary was updated from a previous version to clarify the writer’s disappointment in Mulcair’s position on the niqab as opposed to his support of Israel.


Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He writes at The Jerusalem Post and The Times of Israel.

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Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Lebanese origin who lives in the Ottawa area. He has written extensively on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including about 200 posts in a Times of Israel blog. Fred Maroun has also written for The Gatestone Institute, The Jerusalem Post, New Canadian Media, and others.