Tim Uppal defends bill to ban niqab at citizenship ceremonies

Edmonton MP and Canada's Minister of Multiculturalism, Tim Uppal, is defending his decision to introduce a last-minute bill banning the niqab — a veil worn over the face by some Muslim women — at citizenship ceremonies.

Uppal tabled the bill on June 19, just hours before parliament broke for the summer, the second attempt by the Harper government to ban the niqab.

"We believe that most Canadians including new Canadians would find it offensive that someone would cover their face at the very moment they're joining the Canadian family," said Uppal on Edmonton AM Wednesday morning.

Uppal's stance is being criticized by some as hypocritical as he himself wears a turban.

"These are two very different issues," he said, adding that there's a clear difference between covering your head for religious purposes and covering your face during a citizenship oath.

The government previously tried to enforce a ban on the niqab at citizenship ceremonies by regulation, only to be rebuffed by the Federal Court. The court said that regulation, ordered in 2011 by then immigration minister Jason Kenney, was "unlawful" because the law requires citizenship judges to allow the greatest possible freedom in "religious solemnization" of the oath.

The new bill seeks to ban the niqab by legislation, rather than by ministerial order.

The fact that Uppal is behind the latest move to ban the niqab is angering some Edmontonians, including Nazia Islam, who proudly donned the niqab three years ago. Islam said she decided to wear the niqab as a way to thank her creator for giving her children after struggling to conceive.

"It all of a sudden came to me like wow, state minister of multiculturalism is now asking to remove an important part of my faith before I take a Canadian oath, it just seemed quite hypocritical," she said.

Islam called the bill offensive and "totally absurd."

Meanwhile, Uppal said the bill was introduced to show Canadians what the government's agenda would be if they are re-elected this fall.