One law for one and all, consistently applied

Par Haroon Siddiqui

Vote voilé - turbulences dans l'ordre démocratique

The furor over whether veiled women can vote without showing their face is an example of the hysteria and hypocrisy that sometimes passes for political discourse on Muslims these days.
The sad part of it is that while Europe is looking up to our multicultural model, some Quebecers are looking down on it.
The veil brouhaha has little or nothing to do with the integrity of the electoral process. If it were, those fretting over a few dozen veiled voters would've been in a tizzy over the 80,000 people who voted by mail in the last federal election without showing their face.
For some critics, this is about putting Muslims in their place.
For others, it's about venting their discomfort over another strange custom coming into Canada. For yet others, it is about liberating the Muslim woman. (Both conservative and secular Muslims, as well as non-Muslims, seem obsessed with her. Mullahs want her in a veil, others want her out of it. The former don't recognize her individual sovereignty, the basic principle of democracy and feminism; strangely, the latter won't either).
Contemporary Canada, unlike Europe or the United States, has not been fertile ground for anti-immigrant politics.
But Mario Dumont of Action démocratique du Québec did find some resonance for his demagoguery in the provincial election last spring.
Premier Jean Charest failed to speak up when hijab-wearing women were barred from soccer and judo, and when bigoted comments were made about Jews.
He handed the hot potato of "reasonable accommodation" to a panel, which began hearings this week. Some worry that bigots have been handed a platform. I don't. The more they are exposed, the better.
The issue of veiled voting has resurfaced because of three federal by-elections in Quebec. Politicians are playing the Dumont card.
Thus the embarrassing spectacle of Stephen Harper using an international platform in Australia to berate a federal official.
Full marks to Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand for calling the Prime Minister's bluff.
The law does not demand that voters produce a photo ID. In fact, Mayrand had asked Parliament, whose servant he is, to clarify the issue of veiled voters, not because they posed a problem but because of media sensationalism.
Sans such clarification, he told his officials they could ask veiled voters to show their face. Should they refuse, he cannot compel them. Nor can he stop the qualified ones from voting.
But posturing politicians don't want to hear any of it. (It is disappointing to see Stéphane Dion and Jack Layton in this crowd). So we end up with several ironies.
We berate Muslims for something they never asked for.
We want higher voter turnouts (Internet voting is in the cards) and want immigrants to integrate but when veiled women advance both goals by voting, within the existing rules, we raise a ruckus.
We balk when any group asks for special treatment, yet we want to subject this group to a special threshold. This is not how democracy works. There's one law for one and all, consistently applied.
Across Europe, unequal treatment of minorities has created political, economic and social problems. Germany, France, Britain, Holland and others realize it and also see the danger of waging cultural warfare. That's why they are engaging Muslims in a myriad ways, and looking to Canada for clues.
Why would Quebecers want to go in the opposite direction?
Haroon Siddiqui
Haroon Siddiqui, the Star's editorial page editor emeritus, appears Thursday in World and Sunday in the A-section. Email:

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