Ugly uproar over veils

Vote voilé - turbulences dans l'ordre démocratique

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and most of Parliament must have been snoozing on the job in the run-up to June 22, when the revised Canada Elections Act received royal assent and became law. They thought they had rewritten the act to require people to show their faces before voting. They were wrong, wrong, wrong.
Having awoken from summer slumber to find that the revised act still lets Canadians vote without a face check, MPs are furious. All parties are howling this week that Canada's chief electoral officer, Marc Mayrand, is subverting Parliament's will by refusing to clean up the mess they made, and to do it before Monday's Quebec by-elections.
But Mayrand did not legislate the no-face-check; our nimble lawmakers did. They may have thought they were tightening the law to make visual checks mandatory, but they weren't. The amended act offers voters four options, three with no visual check.
Voters can produce photo identification, such as a driver's licence, which does indeed imply a visual check. But voters can also produce two acceptable pieces of non-photo ID, making a face check impossible. They can also dispense with ID of any sort, and instead swear an oath and be vouched for by another registered voter. Finally, voters can mail in their ballot, as 80,000 did in the last election, none of whom were required to show their face.
Given this buffet of options, Harper was wrong to accuse Mayrand this week of subverting Parliament's will and of going "in an entirely different direction" by not insisting people show their faces. "The role of Elections Canada is not to make its own laws," Harper sniffed. "It's to put in place the laws that Parliament has passed." Huh???
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion echoed this folly, saying "we disagree with Elections Canada ... and we ask them to revisit their decision." Revisit what, exactly? Their duty to uphold the law?
Now a House of Commons committee wants Mayrand to authorize returning officers to insist that veils be lifted, by invoking his power to "adapt any provision" of the act in the event of "an emergency, an unusual or unforeseen circumstance or an error." But Mayrand rightly is loath to substitute his judgment for that of Parliament. If MPs are worried, they can alter the law once Parliament reopens.
To date, Canada has never had a problem identifying voters. And it is wrong to frame this as a "Muslim issue," when key Muslim leaders say women are prepared to bare their faces where the law requires it.
The Muslim community is not the problem here. The problem is bungling MPs who cannot be bothered to read the laws they pass.

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