Barbara Kay: Chinese signs, native ‘medicine,’ niqabbed women — a busy week on the multicultural front

Can we please once and for all jettison the false belief that Muslim women are required by Islamic doctrine to cover their face?

On the multiculturalist front, there was no dearth of news and opinionating this week.

One news item deserves mention simply because the attached opinion was so breathtakingly wrong, a product of the extreme political correctness that inhibits rational thought where aboriginal culture is concerned (and justly condemned as such in the National Post’s Monday editorial).

Jason Kenney defends his 2011 decision to ban wearing of niqabs during citizenship oaths

OTTAWA – Jason Kenney took to Twitter on Friday to defend directives forbidding Muslim women from wearing niqabs while taking the oath of citizenship.

“I believe people taking the public oath of citizenship should do so publicly, w/ their faces uncovered,” Mr. Kenney, who issued the directives as immigration minister and is now employment and social development minister. He asked his 35,700 Twitter followers if they agreed with his stance.

The tweet came amid an ongoing lawsuit over the ban against the federal government.

Zunera Ishaq, a Pakistani woman now living in Mississauga, Ont., is suing the Conservatives, arguing the ban violates her Charter rights by failing to accommodate her religious beliefs.

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At a court hearing regarding the medical treatment of an 11-year old aboriginal girl with an acute form of leukemia — whose principal hope for cure lies with chemotherapy, but who pins her hopes on native placebos — an Ontario judge mused that a child’s life might be an acceptable price to pay for collective self-esteem. That, at least, is my interpretation of: “Maybe First Nations culture doesn’t require every child to be treated with chemotherapy and to survive for that culture to have value” (my emphasis). What is the treatment for Multicultural Derangement Syndrome? This judge needs it — quick.

The second story concerns language rights in the densely Chinese-Canadian city of Richmond, B.C. Many Chinese-language storeowners advertise their wares in Chinese only. A few activists have been protesting the lack of English on signs for some time, but in the past were rebuffed by the mayor and councillors.

In reality, most Chinese-dominant signs do include essential English information. And most Chinese-only signs are confined to stores catering pretty exclusively to Chinese consumer goods, such as Chinese-language DVD stores and purveyors of “feng shui” products. Nevertheless, spurred by a motion to make English mandatory on signs by councillor Evelina Halsey-Brandt, the city is rethinking its laissez-faire policy. Last week, the town’s lawyers were asked to report on whether there are legal grounds for a crackdown.

Ms. Halsey-Brandt used to be in the laissez-faire camp, but has changed her mind, citing an all-Chinese sign on the front yard of a development in progress. She quite reasonably evaluated a foreign-language sign offering public information as crossing an equality line.

Libertarians argue that the market will force more English signage, as in the case of the Aberdeen Centre, a Richmond mall that mandates two-thirds English signage, even though the clientele is largely Chinese, in order to maximize the traffic. Thankfully nobody out west wants to go the opposite, anti-English Quebec route of draconian, nit-picky laws that lead to ludicrous extremes like Pastagate. As Sylvia Martin-Laforge, director general of the English-advocacy Quebec Community Groups Network dryly understated, “Legislation doesn’t always bring out the best in people.”


I’d come down the middle here. If storeowners have no interest in selling their wares to non-Chinese, it’s their right not to use English. But when it comes to public information or public safety or the exploitation of tax-funded vehicles for communication — even if the intended readership is Chinese-only — English must have equal or greater visibility. That means no Chinese-only signage on public buildings or busses. Legislation has a modest role to play, and Richmond is doing the rational thing in exploring its options.

Finally, there is our old friend, the niqab, back in the news, with Pakistani-Canadian Mississauga, Ont. resident Zunera Ishaq suing the federal government because the Conservatives’ ban on veiled oath-taking in citizenship ceremonies allegedly violates her Charter right to religious accommodation. (She withdrew from such a ceremony on that account.)

Yawn. Can we please once and for all jettison the false belief that Muslim women are required by Islamic doctrine to wear the niqab? It is a cultural custom observed only in the most tribal and misogynistic of Islamic societies. The question has been put to, and answered, by a plethora of Islamic scholars. And if some niqab-wearers remain ignorant of their own religion’s demands, that’s their problem, not ours. The general timidity amongst pundits to “go there” is irksome.

What a pleasure it therefore was to read in a recent Maclean’s interview the bracingly commonsensical words on this subject from Quebec premier Philippe Couillard. While dismissing the PQ’s contentious Charter of Values, whose sweeping proscriptions of religious symbols helped to bring that party down last April, Couillard explained that the niqab is a case apart from mere crosses, kippahs and hijabs: “Certain principles have to be clarified. One is the question of the face. I think this is a line in the sand for many Quebecers and Canadians: That if you’re going to give services or receive services, your face should be uncovered. That’s about all we’re going to do, and frankly all that needs to be done.” Hear, hear.

A multicultural week in Canada. Reason-wise, from the ridiculous to the sublime.