Harper stands by promise to consider public service niqab ban
While other party leaders accuse the Conservative campaign of stirring up divisions over the niqab, Stephen Harper is standing behind his promise to consider forbidding federal civil servants from wearing face-covering veils.
On Wednesday, the Conservative Party leader said, if elected, his government would examine a Quebec bill that imposes a similar ban on provincial public servants.
Quebec's Liberal government introduced Bill 62 in June. In addition to forbidding the niqab in government offices, it would prevent people working in policing, health care, education, and publically funded daycares from wearing the covering. It would also ban the veil for people using public services.
"I believe the Quebec government has been handling this very controversial issue in a very responsible manner," Harper said while speaking in Saskatoon on Wednesday. "And we will do exactly the same thing in Ottawa."
Earlier Wednesday morning, Trudeau accused Harper of trying to use the niqab issue to "distract and deflect from his failures on the economy."
"This is yet another example of Mr. Harper doing anything he can to deflect from the fact that, after ten years of a failed economic approach, Canadians want change," Trudeau said during a campaign stop in London, Ont.
"He is stirring up the politics of fear and division in a way that, quite frankly, is unworthy of the office he holds," Trudeau said. "His priorities are in the wrong place."
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has also accused Harper of using the niqab issue as a way to distract from other problems in the country.
Speaking in Alberta on Wednesday, Mulcair said Harper is "playing a dangerous and divisive game."
"(Harper) would rather us to talk about subjects other than the fact that he's been a total failure on First Nations, Inuit, and Metis issues," he said.
Meanwhile, public sector union officials say they don’t know of anyone in their ranks who wears the face covering.
Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, called the proposed ban a campaign tactic and said she’s “hoping Canadians are smart enough not to be fooled by it.”
Amira Elghawaby, communications director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims in Ottawa, also said she is not aware of any public servant who wears a face veil.
Elghawaby said the niqab has been “made into an us-versus-them issue, of our values versus their values, when it really impacts very few people.”
“The value really at stake here is a democratic society where people have the freedom to be who they are,” she added.
Although the potential ban for public servants in a new proposal, the Conservatives have long maintained that niqabs ought to be banned by those taking oaths at citizenship ceremonies.
In February, a Federal Court struck down their ban. A Federal Court of Appeal upheld that decision earlier this month and refused to grant the government's request to put the ruling on hold.
Unlike the Conservatives, the Liberals and NDP have argued against placing a ban on the niqab at citizenship ceremonies.
That position appears to have cost the NDP support in Quebec, where niqabs are particularly unpopular and have featured prominently in televised leaders’ debates.
The Bloc Quebecois, which opposes veils at citizenship ceremonies, has risen in the polls in recent weeks while the NDP’s lead over the Liberals and Conservatives has fallen.
Meanwhile, Conservative attacks ads airing this week in Quebec aim squarely at Trudeau’s position.
On Wednesday, the Liberal leader urged Harper to step back from the issue.
"He needs to stop now," Trudeau said. "No election win is worth pitting Canadians against Canadians."
With files from Josh Dehaas and The Canadian Press