Tom Mulcair says he agrees with current rules that require women to remove their face coverings at citizenship ceremonies for identification purposes, but not for symbolic purposes. But the NDP leader says he would still withdraw an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada over the issue, if he becomes prime minister.

"I am in agreement with the existing rule under which anyone seeking citizenship must uncover their face to identify themselves before swearing the oath, in accordance with their religious beliefs," Mulcair said Wednesday, speaking in Montreal.

However, the NDP say they would not force a woman to reveal her face during the symbolic portion of the citizenship ceremony. If elected, an NDP government would require women only to show their faces in private, so officials could confirm their identity for the public ceremony.

"If some of these women are being oppressed, we have to reach out to them, and it's not by depriving them of their Canadian citizenship and their rights that we can help them," Mulcair said.

Mulcair’s comments come a day before a French-language debate – sponsored by a broadcast partnership that includes CTV News – taking place in Montreal.

  • Thursday’s debate will air LIVE on CTV News Channel and from 8 p.m. ET to 10 p.m. ET

The NDP Leader is currently leading over the Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois in Quebec, where niqabs at citizenship ceremonies are especially unpopular.

On Tuesday, Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe said he favours invoking the constitutional notwithstanding clause in order to ban the wearing of niqabs at citizenship ceremonies.

The Bloc has been running ads attacking the NDP for their position on niqabs.

Abacaus Data found that 80 per cent of those surveyed in Quebec oppose niqabs at citizenship ceremonies, compared to 60 per cent in British Columbia, 57 per cent in Alberta, 55 per cent in Atlantic Canada, 54 per cent in Ontario and 51 per cent in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The online survey of 1,000 adult Canadians taken was taken in March and is believed to have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, with a higher margin of error for regional results.

Last week, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that Muslim women could not be banned from wearing a niqab during citizenship ceremonies. The ruling relates to the case of 29-year-old Zunera Ishaq, a Muslim woman from Ontario who wants to wear her face-covering niqab while swearing the oath of citizenship.

The Conservative government has said it would seek leave to appeal the ruling before the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Liberal party has already said they would withdraw that appeal if elected. On Wednesday, the NDP made a similar pledge