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Government will appeal ruling allowing veil during citizenship oath: Harper

Prime Minister Stephen Harper hosts the Canada-European Union Summit in Toronto on Sept. 26, 2014. HANDOUT/PMO

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the government will appeal a Federal Court ruling that would allow someone to take the oath of citizenship with their faces covered.

A federal judge ruled in Ottawa last week that a portion of the law requiring citizenship candidates to remove their face coverings while taking the oath was unlawful.

The case had been brought on by Zunera Ishaq, a Pakistani national who had sued the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration claiming the government’s policy on veils violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Ishaq, a Sunni Muslim from the Toronto-area who wears a niqab when in public, wants to be allowed to take the oath of citizenship while veiled.

Niqabs are face coverings worn by some Muslim women in public areas and in front of adult males who are not relatives.

Speaking at an event in Quebec on Thursday, Harper said the government intends to appeal the ruling.

“I believe, and I think most Canadians believe, that it is offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment where they are committing to join the Canadian family,” he said in Victoriaville, Que. “This is a society that is transparent, open, and where people are equal.”

According to the court documents, Ishaq came to Canada in 2008 and passed her citizenship test at the end of 2013. She did not attend her swearing-in ceremony after learning that she would have to remove her niqab in public for the oath-taking. Instead, she wrote a letter asking that her ceremony be postponed, and filed an application for a review of the policy with the Federal Court in Jan. 2014.

In the decision dated Jan. 6, Federal Court Judge Keith M. Boswell ruled in Ishaq’s favour, describing the policy requiring that candidates remove face-coverings or be observed taking the oath as “unlawful.”

“To the extent that the Policy interferes with a citizenship judge’s duty to allow candidates for citizenship the greatest possible freedom in the solemnization or the solemn affirmation of the oath, it is unlawful,” he wrote.

Ishaq’s lawyer, Lorne Waldman, said he welcomes an appeal from the government.

“In my view the decision of the federal court judge was clear and unassailable,” he said. “I’ll be very curious to see what grounds of appeal they raise.”

With files from Colin Perkel