Voting with a Mask: The Good, the Ugly and the Silver Lining

potato-sack-advance-polling

In the midst of all the stories of long lines, screw-ups and smiling politicians voting in advanced polls, we have been, I guess you could say, “treated” to a few theatrical political stunts. There was the image of a woman voting with a potato bag over her head and another one of a man voting in a full clown costume with a mask covering his face and more as the days went by.

Now, please, don’t get me wrong. I love a good theatrical stunt as much as the next person, even more so, probably, having taken part in a few myself over the years. I’m usually the first to champion such clever expressions of dissent. This time, though, I’m not so sure.

You’re Allowed to Do It and You Should Be

Make no mistake. Voting with your face covered is perfectly legal in Canada. As long as you show your face to an Elections Canada employee briefly for identification purposes or swear an oath; much in the same way a citizenship oath can be taken with face covered as long as proper visual identification is done prior to the ceremony.

It’s all legal and should be. There is no security issue if proper identification is provided, leaving cultural prejudice as the only reason to object to someone covering their face.

While no one has ever attempted to ban wearing clown masks at polling places, there has been talk, far too much talk, about banning Muslim women from wearing niqabs in various aspects of public life. This is all political hot air and distraction which has somehow, unfortunately, caught hold and changed the focus of this election.

The Good

Jon Keefe did it for the right reasons. The St-John’s businessman put out a call to vote in the Newfoundland Christmas tradition of Mummering. He did so because he wanted to make a statement against the predominant role the issue of face covering has taken in the campaign.

mummer-voting
Jon Keefe (image CBC)

Keefe told CBC News that “it seemed like a great way to work in the point that there are already a lot of cultural customs across Canada that might seem bizarre or unusual to people unfamiliar with them, but we’ve all managed to get along pretty well so far.”

Taking the piss out of Harper’s tactics of division and mocking those who, through xenophobia or ignorance, have an obsession with Muslim women voting or taking a citizenship oath while wearing the niqab is a justifiable reason to do a theatrical stunt.

The Ugly

Unfortunately, most people photographed wearing some sort of facial covering in the past few days were doing it for all the wrong reasons. They weren’t protesting the manufactured obsession with the niqab, instead they were endorsing it.

Toeing the Conservative, or possibly the Bloc, party line, people like Rafik Hanna, who voted were quoted saying “truly sad that I can vote to elect a Canadian prime minister without having to show my face and prove my identity.”

If you read between the lines (and ignore the fact that he did have to prove his identity, albeit briefly), the message is clear. These people have a problem with Muslim women who choose to wear a niqab doing so in a citizenship ceremony, or when voting or taking part in any other aspect of public life.

This is even more clear when it is done by someone who shares the image of him voting on the Facebook page of known racist organization Pegida Canada:

voting-quebec-flag-face-covering

They are effectively campaigning for Harper and his xenophobic tactics of fear and division while at a polling station. Campaigning in a poling station is illegal, by the way. Voting with a mask isn’t.

The Silver Lining

Whenever the bigoted debate over religious face covering at public events rears its ugly head, those vocally opposed always make four arguments:

1. It’s a security risk

2. It’s oppressive

3. There’s nothing in the Qur’an about the niqab.

4. What if I wore a Halloween costume when voting? Would you be okay with that, too?

Arguments two and three are easy to deflate. If the person wearing the niqab is being oppressed, then why oppress her more by denying her citizenship or the right to vote? And if you say there’s nothing in the Qur’an about the niqab, well, I didn’t know you were a scholar. If that is true, though, I’d like to point out there’s nothing in the Bible about wearing a cross around your neck, but you wouldn’t dare make a Christian take off her necklace to vote, would you?

The people wearing masks to the polling station over the past few days have defeated argument four in a way that no bit of intellectual debate ever could. Would we be okay with you wearing a Halloween costume to the polls? Yes, and so is Elections Canada.

Does it look ridiculous? Yes. Does that mean that the concept of voting with a face covering is also ridiculous? No.

A Muslim woman wearing a niqab to vote is not silly. People wearing Halloween costumes to the polls to protest her right to do it look, for the most part, like idiots.

These stunts also have the added bonus of destroying argument one, that a niqab is a security concern. It’s clearly not.

If proper identification is done, it makes absolutely no difference what you wear to the polling place.

When you take away the four main arguments, all that is left for people who think wearing a niqab should be election issue number one is to either admit their ignorance or admit their bigotry. Because if you strip away the rhetoric, they all pretty much sound like this guy:

For those of you who don’t speak French, the man wearing a fake niqab standing outside of a polling place tells the camera that he wants all Muslims out of Quebec before being schooled by a Muslim woman.

Forgive the pun, but the veil is off. The whole niqab debate is a manufactured controversy designed to boost Harper’s polling numbers by playing to people afraid of the Muslim ‘other’ above all else. The intended audience wants everyone to act like “old-stock” Canadians or Quebecois, conveniently forgets that they are themselves the descendants of immigrants and is obsessed with this issue to the point of it blocking out all other electoral concerns.

At least now, thanks to a few people who tried to make a statement while voting, that fact is now crystal clear for all to see.

18 comments

  • Sorry to say I dont agree with your article. I am against someone wearing a niqab during their cityzenship ceremoni or going to vote face veilled. I find it offensive, I even find it offensive someone wearing his sunglasses inside a place (except for medical reason naturelly)the thing the people or doing by wearing a costume is a pacific protest against this nonsense. If I was to go to another country and was in the obligation to wear it, I would, because it is their custom and respect it, she did’nt show respect for ours. the woman whom went to court for this is an affront to our custom, and we do have some. I am against any sort of violence, to be put on Muslim women wearing the hijab or niqab. But I am for a laïque state, no religion, with politics, just see what is happening in the U.S. its a real joke. And to those who wear a costume voting, I’m pround of them, it makes me smile, it is like combatting ridicules with ridicule. Go check the facebook page- le 19 octobre je vote voilé- bet it will make you smile, most of the comments and photos there are so much not against this women, but to have your face unveiled for important matters, like voting ect ect. Dont worry I know the hiqaq is not what really matters in this election, for sure because I wont be voting for Harper or HARPEUR as we say in french, peur meaning scare us and wont even be voting for the block Québecois either. Thanks for reading me, as you can see english is my second language, sorry for the spelling mistakes.

    • I appreciate your comment but am curious what you think of a Christian woman voting while wearing a necklace which has a cross on it. It’s not secular (laïque) either. Sure, a cross doesn’t block her face, but someone wearing a niqab can be clearly identified just as easily with a quick check done by an Elections Canada employee.

      Aussi, même si la site est en anglais, je suis capable de discuter en Français dans les commentaires.

      • Welcome to Canada. Despite your contumacious endeavors we are under Christendom.

      • All of you who keep touching solely on the issue of a veiled person being easily identified in private before taking the citizenship oath or before casting a vote are missing the point. Many Canadians are opposed to going out in public with your face mostly covered. How do we identify people if their faces are covered? Well officer – the woman who took that child had eyes. I think they were dark. And she was dressed all in blue.

        And wait till a criminal male decides to masquerade as a woman and wears a veil because it is so common no one will question. Rob a bank while veiled. Good one. Yes officer – I think it was a female – her? face was veiled though.

        That’s what many Canadians don’t want.

        • Loki: Seriously? People already mask themselves while committing crimes. How does accepting this particular type of dress make that any easier? Are you even listening to yourself?

          Jasmine: This “offense” is invented. There is nothing in Canadian “culture” that bars face-covering other than racism. We are not used to it. It is not often done (few Canadians wear the niqab). But it is not against our culture, which is by definition multi-cultural. Do you oppose the advances made by LBGTQ groups because we do not have a history of respecting their rights?

          • Monroe, the offence is real and not invented. A NON-canadian (at the time) Zunera Ishaq changed a canadian law, Wow! If you were to travel to Pakistan ‘Dress conservatively, behave discreetly, and RESPECT religious and SOCIAL TRADITIONS to avoid OFFENDING local sensitivies. If she (Zunera Ishaq) is so prone to defending peoples rights why isnt she defending her ‘sisters’ from Pakistan to have the right to not be rape, acid attaks, honour crimes, the right to be a christian there, you could be killed for blasphemy ect. ect. Would have been a better way to focus her energy. And in my point of view, an advancement for humans rights.

            Here is a link to an interesting interview with Tarek Fatah at ctv news channel. Mr Fatah is a canadian (origin Pakistan) and he is muslim, he most be Islamopobe or racist?

            http://www.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=724263&playlistId=1.2603522&binId=1.810401&playlistPageNum=1&binPageNum=1#_gus&_gucid=&_gup=GSEmail&_gsc=uhx9duS

            As for LGBTQ, you didnt pick the right women. I am the proud mother of 3 young man, one of them is headding to Toronto for the Queer Zine fest this weekend, and yes he is gay. There has been all lot of advancement regarding this, I’m happy about it.

            On the contrary covering up a women for me is not advancement but regression. It is not a sin to have hair, a face that anyone can see. I know, I know, we are not used to it, canada is known for his openness, tolarance, would never cross my mind to offend in public a muslim women, (polite canadian I am) am pretty much for peace on earth, every body is nice, but sometimes, we must assert ourselves and just say NO, this is the law here.

            P.S. for your cultural information if you didnt know, muslim or Islam is not a race, can not be racist nor have racism! And I am in the right to critic it, with hoping not being called an Islamophobe.

  • I am sure most Canadians do not agree with people covering their face during formal, official public activities. It is the political correctness that allows these behaviors to prevail. Many people are tired of the political correctness and giving in to just buy votes,

    • You may be right that “most Canadians” oppose it. That doesn’t mean there is any logical basis for their objection.

  • A couple of questions (from a practical perspective)…
    1) What is the protocol when a niqab wearing individual enters a bank?
    2) What is the protocol when a niqab wearing driver is pulled over by a police officer and the police officer needs to determine the identity of the driver?
    3) When does the majority rule versus the accommodation of the minority interest?

    • 1) The woman completes her transactions and leaves.
      2) The officer checks her license and registration, perhaps taking an oath. She may uncover for a woman officer, which we need more of.
      3) The majority should never trample the minority. I doubt you would be singing the same tune if the majority wanted to increase state surveillance over innocent folks like yourself.

  • I think your reasoning is completely wrong. Do people wearing a cross behead or flogg people as they do in Saudi Arabia? The niqab or the burqa should be considered for what they are : symbols representing countries where they are worn. In those same countries where democracy and equal rights for gays, among others, are non existant. By encouraging muslim women to conceal their faces we encourage those regimes where women are forced to do so for moral and religious reasons. The main reasons being that women risk being seduced or even raped, because they are women, according to the religious practices in those countries.

    Symbols also have meanings. If we follow that same logic, we should also accept Klu Klux Klan robes and hoods, but we do not. Why?
    You should read more from Muslim writers – from Salim Mansur to Salamn Rushdie who have first-hand knowledge of the significance of niqabs and burqas before repeating left-wing stereotyped arguments. Quebeckers know all too well where religious and political dogma leads to, that is why they are making a satire of English Canada’s laissez faire on that topic.

  • Mr Mclean, to tell you the truth, I wouldnt mind someone voting in a buddhism outfit, kipa, hijab ect. ect. But for me your face is your identity for certain occassion like voting, citizenship oath. IT is not of my business women wearing an Hiqaq in the streets. I dont really like it and I am not indefferent to it. The few times saw a hiqab or burqa in the province of Québec,can not say offended by it, more a feeling of saddness of non-liberty, I know there is a humain being under it, but I’ll never be able to see her face, her identity, exchange a smile as a fellow human being, who is she?. In public their children have a faceless mother, not being able to have non-verbal communication. Thanks again for giving me the oppertunity to give my 2 cents.

    • Did you know that you do not have to show photo ID in order to vote? Your face literally has nothing to do with your ability to take part in an election, and yet we already require an extra step for those with covered faces. What’s your issue here?

  • How can you say that they are identified, albeit briefly?

    I voted with my bicycle helmet on, visor down. No one identified me. I could have had anyone’s ID (find a wallet or stole one maybe). They simply looked at the ID I handed them and asked me to swear that I was really that person. If I’m wanting to illegally vote as someone else, am I really going to worry about an oath? They couldn’t even come after you if you lied, because they wouldn’t know it’s you!

    It’s a sham, and a mockery of democracy.

    Not to mention the obvious, that Canada is a place of equality, and the niqab is a direct symbol of inequality. Ban it outright, it has no place in a free and democratic nation. France, Belgium, and other countries have realized this, and we will too. In fact, we already do. It’s only the tiny minority of uber progressive, self righteous, hardcore leftists that support veiled voting.

  • You have the intent of the protest all wrong. The niqab is a facist backed regime. The difference between a necklace of the cross, turban, yamaka, etc. is that these are actual religious based beliefs. The niqab and burka are not backed by the Quran. Go look yourself. It calls for modesty and covering of genitals and breast.
    They also happen not to completely segregate someone from the rest of society. Its an affront to be viewed by anon and not be able to view back. It is what women is some countries are forced to wear. It is what the Islamic extremist have identified as being a member of their group. There are so, so many reasons it is wrong. It is like black face, the confederate flag and nazi symbol. Why do the KKK wear masks? Why is it only forced on women? If there is no limit to what I can wear….why is there a limit to what I cannot? I can’t walk around naked so there must be a double standard. The actions against the niqab is not racist as you claim it to be. It is the exact opposite, it is fighting for a basic standard of decency to not only those that wear such a facist, segregation, extremist and sexist affront but also a standard decency to integrate.

  • I am a Muslim and I have a big problem with it and will continue to have one. i have lost relatives to women wearing the hijab as suicide bombers. they walk in and they were accepted only for them to trigger a bomb . they are free to cover their face at their homes . but when you are dealing with the public you have to show your identity simple. if they don’t like it let them migrate to other Muslim countries that will accept it. lastly it turn out one of the the suicide bomber wearing a hijab was a man.

  • The instructions Elections Canada is giving differ from what is in the Canada Elections Act. According to the law (not the instructions), a voter is NOT required to take an oath or remove their face covering IF they have 2 pieces of valid ID (photo ID is not needed) and the deputy returning officer has no concerns about their identity or eligibility to vote AND if no other election official raises a similar concern. Someone voting in a ski mask would raise my concerns. Someone voting in a niqab would not.

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