Thursday, September 13, 2007

Muslim Voters: The Nut Position

I am of two minds about the veiled voter debate in Canadian politics right now.

The story so far: new election laws say you must show photo ID when voting, which implies that they must also show their face for comparison though that implication is not directly spelled out in the law. It is not an absolute necessity though, as many voters are able to cast a ballot by mail without showing their face. Muslim women who wear veils (niqabs, burkas, etc.) are being allowed to vote without showing their face as long as they provide alternate forms of ID. Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants to make them remove their veil to vote period. Elections boss Marc Mayrand is refusing to enact such a policy because,

[My] authority … I believe is designed much more for operational matters as opposed to dealing with some fundamental rights protected by the Charter, including the right to vote and freedom of religion, and I think it's not up to an administrator of the electoral system to juggle those rights.
Ok, so here's what I think. Stephen Harper's position is wrong. Showing one's face is not the be all and end all of proof of citizenship, which is really all that matters here. If you don't trust multiple forms of ID, then you cannot support the vote-by-mail system. End of discussion. The law must apply to everyone equally. Which brings me to Marc Mayrand, who is also wrong. He's basically saying that to demand Muslim voters remove their veil would be to violate their freedom to practice their religion. I call shenanigans. Freedom of religion means that you cannot be jailed or fined or banned or somehow stopped by the government from holding any private beliefs. It most certainly does not mean that you can bypass regulations, legal or otherwise, because of silly rituals dictated by those beliefs. There is absolutely no conflict between freedom to vote and freedom to hold Muslim beliefs if women were required to show their face.

So what's the right course of action? Well that depends on how the law is being enforced right now. Is Mayrand allowing Muslim women to vote sight unseen because the law allows for it, or because he doesn't want to disrespect their ridiculous ideas about God? How would elections officials respond if a non-Muslim wanted to vote with their face covered? I propose an experiment. Next federal election I am going to get myself a gorilla suit and go exercise my right to vote. I will bring multiple forms of ID, just like the veiled voters. Let's see if the law does in fact apply equally to everyone, or if religion is being given special treatment.

As an aside, it always feels good when there are two clear opposing sides in a debate and I agree with neither of them. It lets me know I'm really thinking, not just following. Down with false dichotomy!

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