Not The Way We Do Things Here | Vol. 2 / No. 49.3

Niqab | Photo: syauqee mohamad, CC BY-SA 2.0
Niqab | Photo: syauqee mohamad, CC BY-SA 2.0


I am a Canadian. Normally, that means I’m a pretty nice guy, but something’s gotten “stuck in my craw,” as they say, and I really feel the need to talk about it. It’s about the way Canada’s Conservative party has been using anti-Muslim sentiment as a motivator in the upcoming election. Specifically, the wearing of a niqab during the citizenship ceremony.

Here’s a brief primer. The basics are that two Muslim women wanted, back in 2011, to be able to wear a niqab, a head-covering that also covers the face — not to be confused with the hijab which only covers the hair, or the burka which covers everything — during their citizenship ceremony. They couldn’t become citizens without the ceremony, and the Conservative party had made that illegal. Mostly “because xenophobia.”

So a lawsuit followed, which, just this year, was won. Women are now allowed to cover their faces during the ceremony — so long as they’ve had their identity verified by several other means immediately beforehand. This is not a security issue.

Let me say that again: This is not a security issue. 

It is taken care of without additional cost, without additional measures, by the simple act of having another woman verify their identity in a private space just before the ceremony. It is not a problem.

Well, not a problem unless you’re the leader of the Conservative party, who is now pledging to take the fight to Canada’s Supreme Court. Why?

“That’s not how we do things here.”

That’s what he said, and that’s exactly my problem with it. From implicitly racist quotes about “Old Stock Canadians” to anti-religious bias masquerading as protecting women from “Barbaric Cultural Practices,” this “Not How We Do Things Here” idea is only selling one thing: a specific definition of “We.”

That definition does not, apparently, include people with different “cultural practices.”

Oh, I’m not talking about the boogeymen they’re hiding behind with their references to women being possibly forced to undergo “forced marriage, polygamy, or female genital mutilation.” These are real problems, and not one of the five major political parties is in favour of letting them take place. (And by the way, just for the record, none of these are specifically Muslim things, any more than not wearing buttons on dress clothes is a specifically Christian thing.) Forced marriage may be the most insidious, because it’s almost impossible to know whether it’s actually happening in large numbers or just occasional incidences; polygamy is illegal in Canada, and honestly not that challenging to prevent; and FGM is also already illegal in Canada, though in small communities of recent immigrants from very specific parts of the world, there remains the threat that families will take their children out of Canada to have the act performed. But these things also won’t be stopped by a phone number where you can call to snitch on your neighbours, and one that echoes a rather disturbing chapter in history at that.

They frame wearing a niqab like it’s something a woman in Canada is somehow forced to do; like a woman in Canada couldn’t just literally feel more comfortable that way because it was how she was raised. Maybe she was raised in another culture where that might be normal. Maybe it’s a little like I was raised in one that makes me not comfortable in a skirt.

But no, it’s because women need to be protected. It’s a straw man from start to finish.

A phone number like the “Barbaric Cultural Practices” tipline isn’t about honour killings or polygamy — we have laws and police to handle those crimes already. No, a tipline like that is designed to one purpose only: to build up fear about immigrants. Shady immigrants who don’t feel comfortable showing their face out of modesty. Shady immigrants who take a generation or two to fully integrate into society — at the same rate they always have done. Shady immigrants who might change the “character” of your neighbourhood, taking away a tiny fraction of someone else’s social privilege.

“Not The Way We Do Things Here” — incidentally also the URL name of the petition at the Conservative party’s website “” — is quite literally about generating votes by creating a frightening spectre of difference, a common enemy, an “other” against which they can say “we’re this, not that!” Someone to shame or shun so that “Old Stock Canadians” can feel superior.

Well, it works both ways.

My Canada is a country that accepts people’s differences, be it modesty, language, food, or any of the dozens of other things that make up culture. My Canada is full of people who celebrate those differences rather than trying to force everyone to be the same. My Canada is multicultural, and proud of it.

Shunning and shaming other Canadians for their cultural differences? I’ve only got one response to that:

That’s not the way we do things here.


Richard Ford Burley is a doctoral candidate in English at Boston College, where he’s writing about remix culture and the processes that generate texts in the Middle Ages and on the internet. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, and feminism (and the utter insanity of using racism as a wedge issue IN CANADA) here at This Week In Tomorrow.