Kenney declines to apologize for role in niqab ban, saying he never supported a proposed ban

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Premier Jason Kenney declined on Tuesday to apologize for his role in the Stephen Harper government’s controversial niqab ban, saying he has never supported a broad face-covering ban.

Kenney served as federal citizenship and immigration minister from 2008 to 2013. During that time, he imposed a ban on niqab face coverings during citizenship ceremonies — a move critics have deemed Islamaphobic.

In 2014, amid an ongoing lawsuit over the ban, Kenney said on social media people should take the public oath of citizenship with “their faces uncovered.” The ban has since been overturned by the Federal Court of Appeal.

When asked Tuesday if he had regrets or if his views about the niqab have changed since he worked under prime minister Harper, Kenney said he’s always supported religious freedom.

“I’ve never supported a proposed ban. To the contrary, I’ve always said that Canada is a country that protects and respects religious freedom and pluralism, and the government has no business regulating what people wear,” he told reporters following a conference held by western Canadian provincial and territorial leaders.


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He pointed to his record supporting the Canadian Muslim community and his work as a federal minister welcoming Muslims to Canada.

Jerrica Goodwin, Kenney’s press secretary, clarified in a Tuesday email the premier was referring to the idea of a blanket ban on wearing full face coverings such as burkas and niqabs.

“The premier has never supported such an all-encompassing policy,” she said.

Questions about Kenney’s position come in the wake of four members of a Muslim family being killed last week in what police have called a hate-motivated attack in London, Ont.

Calgary Nose Hill Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner apologized to the Muslim community last week for not fighting against the niqab ban and an election proposal to set up an RCMP “barbaric practices” tip line, saying it was one of her biggest regrets while in the public service.

“Those policies were wrong,” she said.

On Sunday, Edmonton Mill Woods Conservative MP Tim Uppal also apologized for his role in the face-covering ban and “other campaign announcements” made in 2015 that contributed to Islamaphobia in Canada.

“When it came to these policies, I should have used my seat at the table to push against divisiveness that promoted the notion of the other,” he said.

Alberta NDP multiculturalism critic MLA Jasvir Deol said the Harper government’s policies contributed to rising Islamophobia, and he demanded Kenney immediately apologize to Muslim Canadians.


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He pointed to Kenney’s past comments referring to the face-coverings as a “medieval tribal custom” that treated women as property.

“What is the premier is going to do now to heal the community after he has caused so much harm?” Deol asked in question period.

Justice Minister Kaycee Madu answered on behalf of the premier, who was not in the legislature, defending Kenney’s work developing good relationships with cultural minority communities.

“You know what nickname the cultural communities gave the premier? The minister of curry in a hurry,” said Madu.

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