Santa Gets Citizenship, Zunera Ishaq Does Not

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.

Non citizen Ishaq

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?

Canadian values

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.

Citizen Claus

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.

This entry was posted in Politics and Government and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Santa Gets Citizenship, Zunera Ishaq Does Not

  1. Rose MacKenzie-Kirkwood says:

    I don’t quite understand why it has to be so difficult. I can understand wanting to see her entire face for ID purposes but if she has agreed to remove her veil, in privacy, and have her photo taken by someone of the same gender, what is the big deal? The veil does not make her any less of a proud Canadian than all the nose rings, tattoos and other alterations we do to our bodies. It’s not how you look, it’s how you behave. The same rule that has applied since I was 2.

    • Exactly! But the Harper Conservatives are offended because she’s exercised her legal right not to remove her veil in public so they’re adding new hurdles to citizenship, like “loyalty” and “social cohesion”. Unlike a law which is either complied with or broken, how does a candidate for citizenship know whether he/she is loyal enough or socially cohesive enough. It’s baloney. And if Canadians don’t re-elect Harper with a majority government he and his proposed “no veil” law will be history.

  2. anonymous says:

    I have seen the face of bigotry in Canada. And it’s ugly.

  3. cyberclark says:

    A lot said about nothing? The Muslim history runs against them when it comes to exceptions to national security! I bring forward cuddly Kadar who’s father was a terrorist; who’s mother was/is a terrorist. And, still haven’t heard from dear old Grandma!

    I would like to think we have their photos. I do support a private photo sitting but passport photos are not drawn from group birthday parties.

    • Cyberclark I approached the Ishaq case from a legal perspective. The first thing a lawyer asks is “What’s the harm we’re trying to remedy?” Wearing a naqib at the swearing ceremony doesn’t break the law, it doesn’t pose an identification problem because the government has her photo (she doesn’t have a passport yet because she can’t apply for one until after she becomes a citizen), it doesn’t create a security problem because the government ran background checks which came up clean, so what’s the “harm” in wearing a naqib? The Harper Conservatives say it’s disloyal (really? why? what about nose rings?) and it’s “not the way we do things here” which is about a lame as my folks telling me I couldn’t do something “Because I said so”. Harper says he’ll pass the “no veil” law as soon as he’s elected. Unless he gets a majority, that will trigger a non-confidence vote and we’ll be back in election mode. Even if the “no veil” law makes it through Parliament, the Courts will strike it down as a violation of the Charter.

      • cyberclark says:

        You describe a chicken or the egg situation. At some point she is going to have to take a passport photo without the veil. I can’t see that changing. As far as the ceremony goes I agree and it doesn’t make a bit of difference to me.

        If however the citizenshiip ceremony has a bearing on her getting her passport because she is veiled something is very wrong.

      • Cyberclark, the citizenship ceremony has no bearing on her getting a passport. If she decides to get one, she’ll have to comply with the laws governing passport photographs, I haven’t heard anything to the effect that she’s refusing to do so.

  4. Ted says:

    “not the way we do things here”. Sounds like a line out of James Dickey’s ‘Deliverance’.

  5. Bruce Jackson says:

    The truth in this post and comments are making me weep. The term Canada should be a verb describing clear pure open honest approach to living in community. The word Canada originated from “kanata” an indigenous expression of village that exemplified such values. May Creator grant mercy on us all.

  6. cyberclark says:

    Here is a quote from Sir Wilfrid Laurier I find appropriate:
    From his speech:
    “We must insist that the immigrant that comes here is willing to become a Canadian and is willing go assimilate our ways, he should be treated on equal grounds and it would be shameful to discriminate against such a person for reasons of their beliefs or the place of birth or origin. But it is the responsibility of that person to become a Canadian in all aspects of life, nothing else but a Canadian. There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says that he is a Canadian, but tries to impose his customs and habits upon is is not a Canadian. We have room for only one flag, the Canadian Flag. There is room for only two languages here, English and French. And we have room for loyalty but but only one. We won’t accept anyone, I’m saying anyone, who will try to impose his religion or his customs on us.” 1907

    • Thanks for this quote. In essence Laurier seems to be saying that immigrants to Canada must comply with Canadian laws and not try to impose their customs and habits on Canadians. Ms Ishaq isn’t asking everyone to wear a niqab at the citizenship ceremony, only that she be allowed to wear one because it’s not against Canada’s laws for her to do so (the Federal Court of Appeal just confirmed this). Seems to me she’s complying with Canadian law and not imposing her customs on Canadians, as such her actions would be consistent with the sentiment expressed by Laurier.

  7. henry says:

    seems to me that our Canadian way is to please the muslums and the rest of the people that come here and want to or think that they are still in the country that they came from,not, we have our laws that we must abide by , get it??

  8. DHT says:

    I’m not really sure how Sir Wilfred or Henry have had their ability to be Canadian…compromised by a piece of cloth that is an outward display of modesty and deference…one might question if that is fair or necessary, but that’s a different debate. How we define ourselves as Canadians was never a test of conformity, as much as a mutually developed sense that cooperation was in the best interest of our collective goals. Burying a false equivocation (cooperation = conformity) is the first step in creating an expectation field, free of distortions like “seems to me that our Canadian way is to please the Muslims…” Ms. Ishaq is a person (not an entire religious community) who, on some level, “appreciates” that coercion (via either social means or government sanctioned policy) is not something to be taken lightly. Unless and until everyone who came here from somewhere else (including Sir Wilfred and maybe Henry and Cyberclark as well) can show that where they came from DIDN”T influence their perspective on what it “MEANS to be Canadian” as evidenced in this discussion, they come off as disingenuous at best (I’ll reserve judgement on the hypocritical part once I know every commenter isn’t a colonist). Three generations ago my relatives had to Anglicize their name to avoid bigotry. I’m now one of those 3rd generation, old Canadian white guys who appreciates the freedoms we are afforded… so I’d hate to see those freedoms lost in an effort to appease Mr. Kenny’s need to pass a “loyalty test”. In my humble opinion, Mr. Kenny and Mr. Harper would do better by all Canadians by realizing that pandering is not a confirmation of loyalty…something both men might struggle to grasp.

    • cyberclark says:

      When you bring Kennedy and Harper in by name it invokes a major anger in me. Redford was taking heat on the internet about the number of illegal people working the oil industry. She made a trip to Ottawa and wallah; the immigration laws were changed at every level to allow these same illegals plus any people who wanted to work in this country; immediate citizenship! No vetting; no guarantees nada was asked about their background, how long they had been out of Gaol’ nothing!

      Then the crunch came and these same ugly people are asking immigrants properly vetted to leave the country. Because they were properly registered they were the only ones Kenny could find.

      That is the kind of immigration the Conservatives run!

      • Cyberclark, there’s so much we could say about the missteps of Jason Kenney and Stephen Harper…here’s hoping that they’ll soon fade off the scene and be nothing more than a bad memory.

    • Very well said DHT. My parents fled eastern Europe to come here. People called my parents DPs—they stayed in a Displaced Persons camp in Austria before setting sail for Canada. My husband’s parents immigrated from Great Britain. His Dad working on the printing press of a major newspaper. He was spat upon by Canadians who resented the fact he was given a job. This bigotry didn’t stop our folks from becoming citizens, contributing to the Canadian economy and raising children who are productive members of Canadian society. Our folks Canada are grateful for the opportunities Canada has afforded them and their children. It’s sad that some Canadians don’t want to give others the same opportunity, but we will continue to speak out in favour of allowing others to become citizens in accordance with the law and the Charter.

  9. Carlos Beca says:

    This is the number one reason why we have stopped moving forward as a nation. We are spending our precious time with nothing. This is the Conservative way and especially Harper’s way. He has muzzled scientists and librarians, has shut down the unions and is making progress on silencing the rest of us, but that is alright because we do not wear the veil. It is his strategy to get Canadians upset about nothing.
    This lady has taken the photos required by law and she has shown her face in private to whoever does the paper checking. Now she decides to wear a veil to the ceremony and my goodness the government goes crazy with disgust. I bet that there were men with their underwear in display full of tattoos and women probably with see through dresses but that is alright, that is not disrespect to the country. That is just the way we dress as Canadians. What a bunch of crap,
    Anyway this government has been nothing but fireworks and this is just another round.
    They are just distracting us from way more serious issues like for example cheating in the elections just like they did in 2011.

  10. carlosbeca says:

    Just an addition to what I said previously – last night I saw the National and they had a documentary on KPMG helping the very rich create tax free accounts in the Isle of Man to escape paying taxes. According to the President of the organization ‘Canadian Against Tax Evasion’ it has taken 3 years and the government does nothing about it despite the fact that they know this is happening. This is not new of course but why is the government going to the Supreme Court to get this woman to show her face in public when tax evasion is FRAUD. The reality is that according to this government it is only fraud if people like me and you cheat on taxes, as far as the very rich they have the divine right to cheat and not pay taxes and do whatever they want – apparently they deserve to have it all. This is the real reason for these distractions is just so we do not focus on the very real issues of corruption and fraud at the very high levels. Of course they then always complete their explanations with this ‘Canada is the envy of the world ….’

    • Carlos, that’s a very interesting point. As we thrash around with these injustices we can’t lose sight of the fact that the Harper government dropped the ball on the big issues. Well maybe he didn’t drop the ball, maybe he’s just letting the free market play out with no oversight whatsoever. The Bank of Canada Governor, Stephen Poloz, was in Calgary yesterday. He characterized the massive layoffs in Alberta’s energy sector as “difficult adjustments [which] are necessary for maximizing our economy’s potential.” I imagine he’ll characterize the tens of thousands of jobs lost in Ontario’s automotive industry as a result of Harper signing the TPP (likely to occur at the end of September) the same way. I hope conservative voters across the country recognize that no matter what Harper says about creating jobs, his stalwart support of the unfettered free market which includes signing the TPP and not going after these tax havens are not helping them one bit.

  11. jerrymacgp says:

    There has been a lot of noise in this debate about whether a certain style of religio-cultural dress implies oppression of women. However, styles of dress that could be interpreted in that way are not new in Canada. Out here in western Canada, there are well-established (dare I say “old stock”) cultural groups that prescribe a certain style of dress for their women members. Look at Hutterites ( or some conservative Mennonites ( for examples. OK, they’re not veiled, but are these women oppressed?

    In my view, if we’re going to start dictating what women wear based on an ill-informed perception of why they wear it, we go down a very slippery slope.

  12. Jonathan says:

    Susan, this is going to sound facetious, but it’s actually not (well, mostly not). If a law is enacted requiring a fully uncovered face at the citizenship ceremony, would Santa be legally obligated to shave off his beard in order to participate in the ceremony? His beard covers every bit as much of his face as Ms Ishaq’s veil covers hers. At least she is able to meet the proof of identity requirement by removing her veil in a private area – would men with full beards have to actually shave them off before participating? If the question is about proving identity, then I think a full beard would disguise identity every bit as much as a niqab, but is there some sort of legal provision that differentiates between biological obfuscation and material attire? If the root question is about identity, I’d be curious to know how these are separated. If the entire debate is really only about social cohesion and a particularly-defined set of ‘Canadian values’, then all this is really frightfully overblown and terribly sad (at least according to the values that I espouse as a Canadian).

    • Johnathan, you raise a very good point and I’d like to extend it even further. Beards most definitely obscure identity. My husband has a full beard and I swear I’d walk by him on the street if he shaved it off. The easy way to address the risk of a bearded man obscuring his identity by shaving his beard or a clean shaven man obscuring his identity by growing a beard is to pass a law requiring all men to be bearded or clean shaven for life so as to avoid the risk of appearing before a customs official or police officer looking nothing like his ID photograph. Stupid isn’t it…just like Harper’s position on the niqab.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s