Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Weston on the dance of the seven veils

Lifting veil on voting
Elections Canada enforcing changes Conservatives passed

As Canadians mark the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Stephen Harper is apparently mad as hell over Islam's veiled voters, and isn't going to take it anymore.

What got the otherwise fun-loving PM fired up was a press release from Elections Canada stating veiled Muslim women will be able to vote in the coming federal byelections in Quebec.

Naturally, driver's licences and other photo ID used by most voters to confirm their identity at the polling booth are of little value with only a pair of eyes behind a Muslim niqab.

Instead, a Muslim woman not wanting to unveil can now qualify to vote by producing a second piece of non-photo identification approved by Elections Canada.

Alternatively, she would be entitled to a ballot if both she and another registered constituent in the same riding swore out affidavits.

The same rules will apply to all future federal elections.

"I profoundly disagree with the decision," Harper reportedly said at the end of his recent meetings with Pacific Rim leaders in Australia.

"I have to say that it concerns me greatly because the role of Elections Canada is not to make its own laws, it's to put in place the laws that Parliament has passed. So I hope they'll reconsider this decision."

Otherwise, the PM warned, "Parliament will have to consider what actions it's going to take to make sure that it's intentions are put into place."


All of which sparked much heated controversy in other political quarters (and some truly lamentable journalism).

Quebec Premier Jean Charest wholeheartedly agreed with the PM, calling the matter a "bad decision."

Lawrence Cannon, the federal transport minister from Quebec, said: "Political correctness has superceded common sense. These are the kinds of things ordinary people don't understand."

One of the reasons ordinary folk might be confused is that most of the aforementioned commentary from Harper et al is at best misinformed.

Elections Canada didn't "decide" anything new.

In response to inquiries from reporters covering the federal byelections, the agency simply reiterated the government's "statutory requirements regarding the identification of electors wearing face coverings."

Far from the federal electoral office "making its own laws," as the PM claims, it is simply enforcing changes to the Elections Act passed by Harper's own government last year.

Those changes were based on hearings and an extensive report last year by a parliamentary committee which, in turn, was reviewing the 2005 recommendations of the then-chief electoral officer.

After all that, parliamentarians decided in their collective wisdom that the best way to deal with the veiled voter issue was to find other ways for Muslim women to vote.

If the prime minister "profoundly" disagreed with that decision, as he now says, he forgot to mention it at the time his government was passing the legislation.

The other problem legislators have recognized is there really isn't much of a problem.

More than 80,000 Canadians voted in the last election by mail-in ballot, no facial recognition required.

As numerous Muslim groups have been quick to point out in the past few days of controversy, there are maybe 50 women in all of Quebec who wear the eyes-only niqab.

And all of them, we are told, are used to showing their faces at banks and other places that require official identification.

Lift the veil on this issue and the problem is entirely in the eyes of beholders.

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