Federal government to challenge court decision that would lift niqab ban

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander says government will seek leave to appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Canada

OTTAWA — The federal government says it plans to challenge a Federal Court of Appeal decision that quashed its attempts to ban face coverings at citizenship ceremonies.

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has issued a terse, one-line statement saying the government will seek leave to appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Zunera Ishaq, a 29-year-old woman with devout Muslim beliefs who came to Ontario from Pakistan in 2008, refused to take part in a citizenship ceremony because she would have to show her face.

On Tuesday, the Appeal Court dismissed the government’s appeal of an earlier Federal Court ruling on Ishaq’s case that declared the ban on face coverings at such ceremonies was unlawful.

The three-judge panel ruled from the bench, saying they wanted to proceed quickly so that Ishaq could obtain her citizenship in time to vote in the Oct. 19 federal election.

One of Ishaq’s lawyers, Marlys Edwardh, said the Immigration Department would be contacted this week so she could attend a citizenship ceremony — accompanied by her lawyers “just in case.”

The ban on face coverings sparked a bitter debate in the House of Commons when it was first announced. Tuesday’s ruling —and today’s decision to fight it — are sure to put the issue firmly on the campaign agenda.

A spokesman for Conservative Leader Stephen Harper expressed regret Tuesday about the court’s ruling.

“We understand the government is considering all legal options,” spokesman Stephen Lecce said in an emailed statement from the Conservative election campaign.

“As the prime minister has said, most Canadians find it offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment where they are committing to join the Canadian family. Both Justin and Thomas Mulcair are offside with Canadians on this issue.”

The Conservatives would re-introduce a law banning face covering and their campaign will have more to say about the issue in the coming days, Lecce said.

In court Tuesday, Justice Department lawyer Peter Southey surprised the judge and defence lawyers when he said the government never meant to make it mandatory for women to remove their face coverings for citizenship ceremonies.

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