Interview: Jason Kenney responds to Justin Trudeau’s speech

Liberal leader shows ‘a grotesque lack of judgment,’ Defence Minister says

(Chris Wattie, Reuters)

(Chris Wattie, Reuters)

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau delivered a hard-hitting speech in Toronto yesterday, taking aim at the Conservative government’s policy against face veils being worn by immigrants when they are swearing the Canadian citizenship oath. That restriction was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge last month, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper opted to appeal the decision.

“It is a cruel joke to claim you are liberating people from oppression by dictating in law what they can and cannot wear,” Trudeau said, adding later, “We all know what is going on here: It is nothing less than an attempt to play on people’s fears and foster prejudice, directly toward the Muslim faith.” At another point, Trudeau said Canadians “should all shudder to hear the same rhetoric that led to a ‘none is too many’ immigration policy toward Jews in the ’30s and ’40s, being used to raise fears against Muslims today.”

Related: For the record, a transcript of Justin Trudeau’s speech

Not allowing face coverings during the citizenship oath—notably the niqab worn by a small minority of Muslim women in Canada—was a policy introduced by Defence Minister Jason Kenney, back in 2011 when he was immigration minister. Kenney spoke to Maclean’s by phone today about Trudeau’s unsparing critique of his policy. This is an edited version of the interview:

Q: Will Justin Trudeau’s speech change the debate over the ban on wearing face veils while taking the citizenship oath?

A: I think his speech was outrageous and beyond the pale. To compare anti-Semitic immigration restrictions during the Holocaust to a request that people take the public citizenship oath publicly demonstrates a grotesque lack of judgment on his part.

The facts profoundly belie everything he said or intimated. It’s almost ridiculous to try to rebut what he said. I mean, this is a government that has maintained the highest immigration levels in our history since coming to office—almost 300,000 Muslims have immigrated to Canada.

Perhaps Mr. Trudeau has some legitimate difference of opinion on allowing the self-effacement of women when they are doing a public citizenship oath, but to suggest this is reminiscent of anti-Semitism during the Holocaust is bizarre and contemptible.

Related: Stephen Harper and the niqab gambit

Q: Even if one accepts that that comparison was extreme, why would you even come close to risking your reputation for having reached out to immigrants of all sorts for a policy that affects a tiny number of women who want to wear a veil while swearing the oath?

A: Something politically correct Canadian Liberals don’t understand, which I do rather profoundly, is that the vast majority of new Canadians, including new Canadians of the Muslim faith, believe that there are certain important hallmarks of integration. They don’t believe that multiculturalism should be misconstrued as cultural relativism. They believe that multiculturalism should mean a positive regard for what’s best about people’s cultural and religious antecedents. But it should not mean a completely unquestioning acceptance of every cultural practice, especially those of the most abhorrent nature.

I can tell you that the vast majority of Muslims that I’ve spoken with strongly supported my decision in 2010 to state what I thought was axiomatic—that a public citizenship ceremony has to be performed publicly.

Related: Trudeau accuses Harper of stoking prejudice against Muslims

Q: But isn’t there a difference between saying ‘The niqab represents a sort of oppression,’ and saying, ‘We’re going to ban it?’

A: That’s just it: We’re not banning it. I have a long public record on this. You go right back to the very day I announced this. I was baited by Quebec media, and asked why we weren’t seeking a broader ban on wearing niqabs and face coverings, why we weren’t adopting the French approach. I said then and I’ve said consistently since then that I think the state has no business regulating what people wear.

I may find the niqab a very problematic reflection of an oppressive attitude toward women, but I don’t think the state has any business telling people what they wear. I do think there are some moments, where there’s an interaction between the individual and the state, particularly when it’s by its very nature a public declaration, that people should do so publicly.

So it seems to me that there’s a point where some politically correct Liberals suspend their ability to think critically about these things and to actually see some nuance and make some distinctions.

Q: I think some people would object to the term “politically correct” being applied here. It’s possible to object to the niqab in terms of the place of women in society, but still feel reluctant to agree that we should make it impossible for somebody to swear a citizenship oath wearing one.

A: I think Canadians are extraordinarily tolerant and pluralistic people. And that is reflected in the fact in opinion polling on this well over 80 per cent believe the citizenship oath should be taken publicly and not in hiding.

Some people say, Why can’t you have women wearing face coverings go and swear the oath in a separate room? The reason is because I don’t believe in segregation. I think it’s profoundly offensive, as Mr. Trudeau believes, that in the very first act of somebody becoming a Canadian that they should be segregated, ostensibly on the grounds of their religion.

I’m very robust in my defence of religious freedom. I note that a huge number of Muslims have reminded me that the face covering is not a religious obligation. This is a cultural tradition of Arab tribes from the pre-Medieval period that has been imposed on some women. As a pluralist, I don’t believe we should interfere with people observing that tradition generally in their private lives. But when there are those interactions between the individual and the state, particularly at a public ceremony, I think our position is eminently reasonable.


Interview: Jason Kenney responds to Justin Trudeau’s speech

  1. Whose idea was it to interview a guy with women in chains online over this mattet

    • Unfortunately there really are women in chains in the Muslim world. It’s sad that you would make fun of their state in such a fashion.

      • Ooops! My bad. I missed the whole tweet from Jason on the Muslim women in chains. I’m assuming that this is what you were referring to.

  2. I haven’t been very kind to Trudeau on these forums, but that was an excellent speech. He is correct the Conservatives are trying to play divisive politics and fear mongering to score cheap points from select voters. It’s awful politics and they should be called out and exposed for it. That said, let’s see how long before Justin tries the same on some other unrelated manner. All parties have been playing this kind of politics far too often for a while now.

    • You lefties position what Harper id doing regarding terrorism fear mongering. The polls, however, say that what he is doing is supported by 80% of Canadians as being right. If you ever can figure out what little Justin stands for on any matter, please let me know.

      • I think what you mean to say is that over 80% of Canadians support a bill they have not read. To my knowledge no one has polled Canadians on whether they agree it is super duper extra special important that we force certain women to choose between their religious beliefs and becoming citizens.

      • Your right! Justin doesn’t know what side of an issue to side with on a good day. On a bad day, he just doesn’t make any sense at all.

      • Hey Jason let’s find some more stuff to ban. Not just what people should wear, but what they say, write, signs, all that Taber stuff.
        And don’t forget Jason you have new secret police to track them all down.

    • Trudeau is following a longstanding Liberal tradition of trying to paint the opposition as evil. How does he do this? Why, the Liberal way of course! With fear! Remember “soldiers in the streets, with guns”?

      Ironically, the only time we’ve every had soldiers in the streets with guns and our liberties curtailed were under the Liberals.

      A sham of a speech, delivered by a neophyte, to an audience of sheep, for the benefit of the already converted.

      • “soldiers on our streets!”.

        Sigh. Find something else to whine about, this one is getting old. And dated. And, you know, completely irrelevant…

        • You too need something esle to whine about other than “80% of Canadians support a bill they have not read”. I’ve seen this post of yours many times. It’s getting old. I think most Canadians are smart enough to figure out what the bill is about and means.

          • Heh. Well I am surprised I have to explain this to you but here it goes.

            See, one point is topical, as in, the bill is currently before Parliament and the poll was done within the last month, and the other, well, isn’t.

            Hope that helps!

      • Came pretty close during the G8 in Toronto.

  3. Has Jason Kenney apologized yet for circulating that misleading picture of Muslim women in chains, who were actually acting out a performance, to drum up war support? Maybe since it was only derogatory towards “brown people” he feels it doesn’t warrant an apology from his party.

  4. Jason Kenney: “It’s almost ridiculous to try to rebut what he said.”

    He sure didn’t waste time trying to rebut.

  5. Wow, did he ever nail it. Pretty much sums up Canadian values as best as I could put it.

    • If it were only about the citizenship ceremony he might have a point. But take a look, for example, at those CPC fundraising pieces…

  6. It is hard to understand why someone cannot cover their face when taking a citizenship oath. There is simply no justification other than targeting people of a certain religious group.

    I believe these women are oppressed and this practice is appalling. I also believe that barring them from becoming citizens by forcing them to abandon that practice in order to take the oath is oppressive and appalling. If we want to help these women, shouldn’t we make it easier for them to come to Canada? This is a country where they are free to abandon the niqab should they wish to do so – and even if they do not choose to do so their daughters might. If we are concerned about how they are oppressed, should we be putting barriers to them becoming citizens?

    • They cannot cover their face becuase it is not part of our values/morals/culture……By allowing it at the inception of Canadian life, it is giving the message that it is part of our values/morals/culture…

      What if someone wanted to wear a trophy of a human skull around their neck? Would you allow that? I most definately would not. There has to be a point where a stand is made for our values, and there is no better time than at the beginning.

      I disagree with your statement of: “This is a country where they are free to abandon the niqab should they wish to do so – and even if they do not choose to do so their daughters might.” You can look at the Brits and see the issues they are having. It’s actually the reverse of what you are saying. There are more woman who keep the niqab, than who loose it. Allowing the niqab also fosters the religious practices of the culture, and further alienation from the British culture. You can see You Tube videos where there are large Muslim groups, including many women in niqabs, chanting death the British Police, and that they should burn in hell. This is not what I want Canada to turn into, and that is why it is so important to have a strong stance.

      • Not part of our culture? Since when? Since 2011 when Kenny decided he did not want it to be part of our culture? If that is the best argument you have, you should give up now.

        You know what HAS been part of our culture, for centuries? Religious freedom. You need to read the other articles on this website and perhaps educate yourself. For instance, in one article Aaron Wherry points out exactly why the federal court did not allow Kenny’s directive to stand. “So while the directive demanded that the niqab be removed during the saying of the oath, the regulations instruct the citizenship judge to allow “the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or solemn affirmation thereof.”” As in, the long standing regulations recognize our dedication to religious freedom.

        As for the rest of your comment, we are not Britain. Just because something happens there does not mean it will happen here. It may happen here, and I suspect is far more likely to happen here if our government continues to promote this bigotry and isolation of people who choose to look different. Assimilation is easier when we accept people.

        At least you are not trying to perpetuate the lie that others are by saying this is about protecting women. For you, and I suspect most others who agree with you, though they apparently do not want to admit it, this is about keeping Muslim women out.

        • Are you trying to insinuate that the niqab is part of our culture? Following your argument about religious freedom, are you then also fine with having Sharia law?

          Actaully you are both wrong and right. I do care about protecting women (it’s basic humanity to do so) but I also care about keeping the ideology that goes with the niqab out of Canada. The ideology that puts the niqab on women, is the one that is causing the most hideous crims around the world today.

          • Nope. I am stating outright that religious freedom is part of our culture. This is why we accept Sikh turbans, and even the hijab. Drawing the line at the niqab is bigotry.

            And I am struggling to understand how putting barriers to citizenship in a free country for the women you claim to want to protect is actually protecting them. Perhaps you can expand on that?

          • GAYLE1 *no reply link on your post*

            I’m fine with religious freedom, but if that freedom causes mistreatment of women or harm to others, then the question must be asked, “Are we willing to allow every form of religious practice in our country regardless of the consequences”? If yes, then what about Satanism and human scrifice? I know that this is an extreme, but if one is allowed to exist, so is the other. When/where do you draw the line? Also, you didn’t answer my question. Are you okay with having Sharia law in Canada? It is being practiced, on a small scale, in some parts of the country in Muslim communities. As you know, it is not very favourable towards women. In addition, as is pointed out by Jason, the niqab is not a requirement of Islam, and I’ve heard this from Muslim sources too. So am I intolerant? Yes, but not towards Islam, but towards the ideology behind the niqab. You can also accuse me of intolerance when it comes to Nazis, KKK, ISIS, G.W. Bush, and Qubec language laws :).

            As for the barriers, if we allow/encourage the wearing of the niqab in a citizenship ceremony, then we are not putting a stop to the oppression of the women who have to wear them. Simply letting them wear the niqab in a ceremony changes nothing for them, other than better living standards. They were oppressed from where they came from and they are now oppressed here. Please understand that for me, as I said earlier, it’s much more than the niqab that concernes me. It’s the ideology behind it, which is one of the most oppressive ideologies towards women, as well as extremely violent against those who do not adhere to it.

          • How about Hutterites? The women wear “modest” clothing, including, I believe, a head scarf. They have no say in the decision making in the colonies and instead have to rely on the men to vote and run the colonies.

            If you want to help niqab wearing women and get them away from oppression, the best way to do that is to make it easy for them to live in Canada, as a free citizen. What you are saying is that since they will still wear the niqab here, we should not allow them be here.

          • Forgot to add – based on your comment, should I assume you want us to throw all the Hutterites out of the country unless they stop their barbaric women hating practices?

          • You are still missing the point that I am trying to make. It’s not only the niqab but also the ideology behind it. I’ve never heard of Hutterites beheading people, doing female circumcision, or killing people because of different beliefs. Furthermore, the modest clothing and head scarf is nothing compared to having to wear the niqab. You can equate the head scarf to a hijab, which I never said I had an issue with.

            I’ve made it pretty clear how allowing the niqab in Canada will not make women freer, nor does it help them. I never said that it will protect them, but rathet that it will continue to enslave them.

            You have been dodging my question about Sharia law.

          • *I didn’t see your last point until I already posted.*

            In my previous post I differentiated between the ideology behind Hutterites and the niqab, so I’ll leave that alone. However, I cannot let your last statement about “their barbaric women hating practices” go unanswered. I have a hard time believing that you actually compared Hutterites to those practicing the “niqab version of Islam”. I am forced at this point to assume that you are either one wearing a niqab, one practicing the religion that approves of it, or simply don’t have enough life experience and are ignorant. Have you ever even encountered or spoken with Hutterites? I have had many dealings with them both on and off the colony as they are part of the industry that I am in. Let me tell you, they are wonderful people. Do they have a bunch of antiquated rules? Yes, but they are in no way barbaric towards women. Both the men and women work very hard. The leadership is made up of only men, but they don’t have a rule book on how to mistreat their women. I have never heard of a public beating of a woman because she did not obey her husband (and I would if it occurred), nor have I heard of any women setting themselves on fire because they could not stand living with their families or newly forced pedophile husbands who are decades older then them.

            Due to such a comparison as the one in your last point, which to me is more desperate than grabbing at straws, as well as your continued dodging of my questions (I have answered yours), I will respectfully decline to continue this debate.

          • “It’s not only the niqab but also the ideology behind it. I’ve never heard of Hutterites beheading people, doing female circumcision, or killing people because of different beliefs.”

            So everyone who wears a niqab also believes in forced female circumcision and killing people because of different beliefs? Really?

            And my point about the Hutterites is just to find out where you draw the line. Clearly you draw it at Muslims who wear the niqab. Which, you know, is bigotry.

            You are trying really hard to convince me that you are not putting up unnecessary barriers, but it is not working. At the end of the day there is no reason, at all, to force this unnecessary requirement on these women – unless you are a bigot.

  7. Almost completely agree with Jason. The niqab should be completely banned in Canada.

  8. I thought a real libertarian would say the government has no right to tell anybody what they should wear.

  9. The sheer ignorance and naivety of Trudeau is simply astounding! If he thinks this is a cause that will win him votes, he is even more out of touch than most people have come to suspect. This costume that Muslim women are forced to wear, is a tribal dress that has absolutely nothing to do with Islam, and is a construct of an oppressive male dominated culture. A culture that is at odds with Canadian beliefs and values.

  10. I find it hypocritical when Muslim women will interview for a job without their gear in front of a man to get the job and don’t indicate at all they will be wearing it if hired and then show up full regalia to work.