Citizenship is a serious matter, right?
That’s why Santa Claus is a Canadian citizen but Zunera Ishaq is not.
Or to put it more accurately—that’s why a man covering his face with a fake beard and dressed in a Santa suit was officially declared a Canadian citizen by Jason Kenny (twice) and issued a high tech security ePassport by Chris Alexander while Ms Ishaq, an immigrant from Pakistan who’s lived in Canada since 2008, was told not to bother showing up.
The case against Ms Ishaq
The Federal Court of Appeal recently confirmed that candidates for citizenship may take the oath of citizenship wearing face veils, notwithstanding how vigorously Stephen Harper insists the veils must come off.
However the prospect of a tiny group of veiled women becoming citizens is driving the Conservatives bonkers and Conservative MP Denis Lebel recently announced that Harper’s government would rectify this apparent insult to Canada by passing a “no veil” law within 100 days of being re-elected. Lebel notes “Citizenship isn’t just a privilege and brings with it the responsibility to clearly identify oneself when taking the oath.”
All applicants for citizenship must agree to biometric identification—a photo that allows them to be uniquely identified. Applicants are allowed to wear a head cover provided their entire face is clearly visible. If this creates a religious or cultural concern applicants may be photographed behind a privacy curtain and by someone of their own gender.
Apparently, Ms Ishaq complied with the biometric identification process and identification is not an issue.
Before a candidate can become a citizen they must be a permanent resident. A candidate for permanent residency must produce a police certificate from their home country and submit to a government background check which would uncover any arrests, convictions or security risks.
To get this far in the citizenship process Ms Ishaq must have a clean police certificate from Pakistan and an unblemished background check from the Canadian authorities.
Not the Conservative way
Ms Ishaq’s niqad is not illegal and it doesn’t create identification or security issues, so what’s needling the Conservatives?
The answer was unveiled when the Conservatives posted a petition on the party website asking voters to sign if they agree that it’s “offensive” to wear a veil at a citizenship ceremony and that citizenship candidates must uncover their faces “in public” because this “is consistent with Canadian values of openness, social cohesion, and equality.” The petition is entitled “Not The Way We Do Things Here”.
When did “social cohesion” (as defined by the Conservatives) become a Canadian value?
The government sets out its citizenship requirements in a booklet called Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship.
Discover Canada outlines Canada’s values, history, institutions and symbols (including the Crown and the beaver). It describes citizens’ rights as they flow from the Charter (including freedom of religion and expression) and citizens’ responsibilities, ranging from obeying the law to voting.
The booklet describes how Canada is governed, its justice system and economy. It highlights gender equality and multi-culturalism.
It makes absolutely no mention of “social cohesion”. And it does not obligate citizenship candidates to violate what Ms Ishaq described as her identity as a Muslim woman and her religious beliefs in support of this non-existent Canadian value.
Enough about values and charter rights.
Former Immigration minister Jason Kenney cuts to the chase. The niqab issue is about loyalty. Kenney says it’s “entirely reasonable to ask, for those 30 seconds, that someone proudly demonstrate their loyalty to Canada” by removing their veil.
Apparently Kenney forgot the wording of the oath. It requires candidates to “be faithful and bear true allegiance” to the Queen and her heirs and successors, not to Canada and certainly not to the Conservative party or a wonky new “value” they dreamed up in the middle of an election cycle.
The case for Santa
Santa is a lucky guy. Kenney confirmed his Canadian citizenship twice—in 2008 and in 2010. Kenney’s successor, Chris Alexander, granted Santa and Mrs Claus new high tech ePassports in 2013. No background checks or citizenship tests were required.
Why the special treatment?
Let’s see…Santa is an old white guy. He lives at the North Pole and validates Harper’s claim to the Far North. Santa’s been around for centuries. He’s as “old-stock Canadian” as you can get. And he’s a key player in legend and folklore who unilaterally decides who’s naughty or nice.
Citizenship: a snap if you’re in Harperland. Tricky if you’re not.