Niqabs in the workplace? Who cares.

While Harper hints at a ban on niqabs in the public service, there’s no evidence they’ve ever been an issue among actual workers

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper speaks during a campaign stop in Saskatoon, Sask, on Wednesday, October 7, 2015. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper speaks during a campaign stop in Saskatoon, Sask, on Wednesday, October 7, 2015. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Where’s Waldo? He’s easier to find than the Canadian civil servant who actually cares about the religious headwear of his or her colleagues. On CBC’s Power and Politics on Tuesday, Stephen Harper said that the Conservatives are eyeing Quebec legislation to ban niqabs in the civil service. “That’s a matter we’re going to examine,” Harper said, adding that “we’re a society of openness and of equality and this is what we want to promote.”

The statement contradicts Treasury Board president Tony Clement, who said in March that a ban on niqabs should strictly apply to citizenship ceremonies and “that doesn’t mean you can impose that view on the workplace or private sphere.”

While only two women have been directly affected by the Conservative government’s effort to ban niqabs at swearing-in ceremonies, not one federal servant has voiced concerns about niqabs in the workplace, say union leaders. “It’s a non-issue. It’s never once come up,” says Emmanuelle Tremblay, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees.

Related: An in-depth Maclean’s primer on the niqab issue

On Wednesday morning, Tremblay and the leaders of 10 other federal unions (out of 18 in the country) held a press conference to publicize their casting of  ballots in an advanced poll. When a reporter asked a question about niqabs, says Tremblay, none of the union leaders said niqabs in the workplace was a concern, including the leaders of Canada’s largest unions, representing approximately 300,000 federal employees.

Similarly, Nicolas McCarthy and Joe Boughner, communications directors of the Association of Justice Counsel and the Association of Canadian Financial Officers, respectively, confirm that their unions have never heard members mention niqabs in the workplace.

Meanwhile, Tremblay lists off a series of important issues they do care about. “There are so many more worrisome things that the Prime Minster has said,” she explains. She notes the politicization of federal servants and the disappearance of proper bidding processes for contracts. “Bringing up this niqab thing is adding fuel to the fire,” she says.

On Wednesday, the other federal party leaders, Tom Mulcair, Justin Trudeau and Elizabeth May, were also busy scolding Harper  for distracting voters from other issues. Trudeau accused Harper of stoking anti-Muslim fears: “To the Prime Minister directly: Stop this before someone truly gets hurt. We’ve had women attacked in the streets for wearing hijabs and niqabs. This is not Canada,” he told the CBC.

There have been plenty of suggestions as to what the real issues should be in this election—columnists have urged voters to consider the state of Canadian manufacturing, the treatment of aboriginal people, income security, the state of the Senate, childcare, and much more. And yet, the headdress hullabaloo goes on.


Niqabs in the workplace? Who cares.

  1. having someone hide there face is a big deal but affects almost nobody in the general topic. This issue should be dealt with, but its not a big issue. I obviously don’t want people entering the bank male or female covering their faces. The practice is both abusive to women, why don’t the men all wear them… And it also disrupts proper communication. The Face is a important communication tool. If they want to wear a mask do it at home when your sleeping. And I don’t care if you wear a towel or a fridge on your head, but generally you should show your face if you are interacting with people.

    • If nothing else, your eloquent and coherent comment has convinced me that evolution is a hoax.

    • “…you should show your face if you are interacting with people.”

      So after we ban the niqab we should ban email, texting and that new fangled telephone. And letters! Hey, we need to get rid of all written communication since you can’t see the writers face when they are interacting with you.

      We need to do things the old fashion way, as in 4000BC old fashioned!!

  2. The niqab is a symbol of societies that don’t work very well. If you’re in a city where a lot of the women are wearing niqab’s, you’re likely in a country that is highly dysfunctional on a lot of levels. For an individual to go to the effort of emigrating out of a country like that and then cling to one of the more powerful symbols of that dysfunction makes little sense.
    I would liken it to going to a great deal of effort to become Mormon, and then claiming to be upset that you can’t drink alcohol.
    It demonstrates either an inability to grasp the concepts of freedom and openness inherent in Western society, or an unwillingness to. Both are elements of erosion of the kind of society that we have evolved to over the centuries, and should be countered.
    By accepting tha

    • While I tend to agree, the bigger question is why is this nonsense being raised now? Once again Harper is desperately trying to gain a foothold among those who otherwise would never vote for him by raising an issue that affects only a handful of people, but that serves to sow fear and distrust and divide Canadians one against another. We can discuss this any time. Now we need to focus on the the larger issues that are critical to survival of Canada. Two or three women covering their faces should not even appear on the radar just before an election. THIS SHOULD NOT BE AN ELECTION ISSUE. Get rid of Harper and worry about this minor matter down the line.

      • Because it is happening now.

      • Shorter Bill Greenwood:

        Freedom means we’re all free behave in a way Bill approves of.

    • We live in a country where it is OK to think and do things that “make little sense”.

  3. I find it interesting that she had more freedom before she decided to spend taxpayers money to cause so much trouble. Very simple here. She wanted to become Canadian, which she was doing happily wearing and not wearing her face covering as she chose. Our Prime Minister of Canada respectfully asked her to remove her face covering to which she refused, huge huge mistake, then she went on to sue and publically insult our Prime Minister on many occasions. Now whether you like or dislike him , this is a disrespect and a forwardness that insults all Canadians. She is one. She caused this much trouble. One. So the fact that she won twice over and became a Canadian further insults our culture . She is one. Now when you look at all our children have lost in the school system , Xmas celebrations, prays, faiths, patriot songs and in some cases whole villages are taken over , maybe it tells you why Muslims who practice Sharia Law cannot be allowed in any country refugees or not.

    • Vanda, Harper is not an absolute monarch, nor has he any right to tell one what to do. The woman in question did not sue Mr Harper. She questioned a government diktat which had no basis in law. Her question went to the courts, twice, and they agreed with her. It is not disrespectful to contradict the Prime Minister, in fat it is the duty of her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition to do so on a daily basis.

      Where are these “villages you are talking about?

  4. Who cares? I care. Thank you Prime Minister Harper for standing up for my rights. I am a hearing impaired person who requires that I see a person’s face and lips so I can communicate effectively. This way I would not have to ask someone to take off her mask so she can properly address me when I access public services. Obviously Trudeau and Mulcair do not care about my rights in the same way as Prime Minister Harper does.

    • Meet a lot of government officials wearing a niqab have you?

      Go to a lot of one person government offices where all these niqab wearing women work, do you?

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