More accurately, Elections Canada — the agency that oversees elections in our neighbor to the north — has granted an exception for Muslim women to show their faces at polling stations for identification. The action by the agency defies the nation’s Parliament, which specifically required facial identification for voters:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper blasted Elections Canada Sunday for going against a parliamentary ruling by allowing Muslim women to wear veils and burkas while voting.
The move goes directly against a unanimous vote in the House of Commons this past spring to make visual identification mandatory when casting a ballot.
“I profoundly disagree with the decision,” Harper told reporters in Sydney, Australia where he is attending the APEC conference. “We just adopted this past sitting, in the spring, Bill C-31, a law designed to have the visual identification of voters. That’s the purpose of the law.
“That was the law voted virtually unanimously by Parliament and I think that this decision goes in an entirely different direction,” he continued.
Unanimity continued today on this point, as the Liberals agreed with Harper on EC’s overreach. Stephane Dion told reporters in Vancouver that they would ask EC to rethink their position. Both Dion and Harper pointed out the obvious fact that Parliament creates the laws, and agencies like EC have the mission of enforcing them, not unilaterally modify them to suit their own purposes.
EC, meanwhile, insists they know what they’re doing. “Elections Canada goes around the world helping other countries with their elections,” she said. “I think the officials at Elections Canada know how to make sure that the voting is accurate.” They claim that having another registered voter in the same polling division swear to the veiled voter’s identity will be just as secure as actually checking ID against an unveiled face. If that were true, then it would seem a waste of time to have picture IDs at all, which EC doesn’t address.
One might assume Muslim women rejoiced at the decision by EC to grant them special status. However, as it turns out, Muslims never asked for the exemption, and they don’t want it:
A spokesperson with the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations in Montreal said Muslim women were never consulted on whether they even wanted the exception.
“My jaw dropped. I was very surprised. Muslim women wearing the Niqab, which is the face veil, never made the request to have to keep it on while they vote,” said spokeswoman Sarah Elgazzar, speaking to CTV Montreal. …
“It’s absolutely unnecessary. Those women wearing a niqab always identify themselves when they need to identify themselves. The photo I.D. they show to people at the ballot box is a photo without a face veil. So people will clearly be seeing their faces,” she said.
So here we have Parliament telling EC that all voters must show their faces for proper identification at polling stations, and Muslims agreeing that they see no problem with this — and still EC persists in its strangely paternalistic fashion. It sounds as though the Commons needs to clean house at Elections Canada.