A bad bill on veils

Vote voilé - turbulences dans l'ordre démocratique

Pandering to ethnic prejudice is a cheap way to win votes. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is pandering by introducing a bill to force veiled Muslim women to show their faces at the polls.
If there were any evidence that veiled women are contributing to voter fraud, Mr. Harper might be on solid ground. But the government has not brought forward such evidence. It has cited no evidence on the number of women who vote from behind veils. No one has said whether any do. This is a solution in search of a problem.
Yet the government has tabled a face-veils bill before trying to fix the real problem of a million rural voters inadvertently dropped from the rolls because they lack a formal street address. That says everything one needs to know about the supposedly constructive purpose behind the Conservative government's bill.
This is a bill meant to appeal to a sentiment expressed vociferously in Quebec that Muslim women should not be voting from behind face veils. On the surface, the sentiment seems reasonable; a country should not weaken the integrity of the vote by allowing voters to conceal themselves. But look at the facts. Voters are not required to show photo identification, largely because many people do not have photo ID. Two pieces of government-issued ID approved by the Chief Electoral Officer are enough. Alternatively, a voter with ID may vouch for another voter without. Beyond all that, a voter may mail in her vote from abroad. Without photo ID, showing a face proves what? That the bearer has a face?
The real issue seems to be an overt religious display that some people find objectionable in public places. Voting with a veil is seen by some to be out of step with prevailing norms. But since when do voters need to be in step? Voting is not a loyalty test.
Those who show up to vote should be presumed to be doing their duty as citizens. Voting is a positive act of citizenship. It does not matter what voters wear when they fill out the ballot. They are not the ones being judged. Unless there is a real issue with security or fraud, their privacy (and what they wear is a private choice) should not be interfered with.
The government says it is prepared to allow an accommodation: Veiled women may step behind a screen and show their face to a female elections official. How magnanimous. First the government singles out veiled Muslim women, implying they are doing something wrong, and then it offers them a way to earn their right to vote like everyone else. There is no voting-integrity issue here.

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