I know, I know. Who am I, a left-of-centre progressive, to offer advice to those whose chosen party I’d almost certainly never vote for?
In my defence, I grew up in Nova Scotia with its tradition of principled Progressive Conservatives. While I can, did and do often disagree with the the views of Robert Stanfield, Flora Macdonald, John Hamm or Jamie Baillie, I would never question their personal integrity.
I can’t say the same for Stephen Harper. In the 2015 federal election campaign, Harper’s Conservatives — for that’s what they are — crossed a line. More than one. More than once. To deliberately demonize Muslim Canadians.
Start with the niqab, the face cover some Muslim women wear. Harper’s me-too former minister of immigration, Jason Kenney, claimed the niqab “reflects a misogynistic view of women… grounded in medieval tribal culture.”
I dare Kenney to make that argument face-to-niqab with Zunera Ishaq. (Or to defend his government’s $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, a country with a decidedly mysogynistic view of women, not to forget human and religious rights. But I digress…)
Ishaq is a thoughtful 29-year-old teacher from Pakistan who deliberately chose to wear a niqab even though “all my family,” including her husband, opposed it. When Stephen Harper told her she couldn’t be a Canadian if she wore her niqab to her citizenship ceremony, Ishaq courageously challenged him in court twice. And won.
So Harper doubled down, threatening a new law banning niqab-wearing public servants —even though it was unclear there is even one such in the federal service.
His candidate minions rushed to “stand up for our values,” promising an RCMP “tip line” so old-stock Canadians can rat out their Muslim neighbours for “barbaric cultural practices.”
For good measure, the government announced it will strip several Canadian-born dual-citizens convicted of terrorism of their citizenship, even though they have no connection to their other passport, and even if that will make it more difficult to monitor or control their activities.
None of this is about real public issues. It is a conscious, cavalier, poll-driven decision to pit citizen against citizen, to appeal to the worst of human nature in order to win votes. It is unworthy.
And it is time for principled Conservatives to stand up for principle. And against what Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have become.
For anyone curious about the source and sincerity of Zunera Ishaq’s position on the niqab, I would encourage you to listen to her recent interview with the CBC’s Anna Maria Tremont1.