In Canadian Election, Xenophobia Lost


Conservative leader and Canada's Prime Minister Harper pauses while speaking during a campaign stop at an automobile parts factory in Brampton

Recently defeated Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper

The result of Canada’s elections sent out a message of tolerance and inclusivity on Monday. Stephen Harper’s ten-year reign will come to an end as Liberal Justin Trudeau was selected as the Prime Minister-elect.

The elections come off the back of a nationwide debate about the niqab – a controversial veil even within Islam — which covers the entire face and is often worn by religious conservative Muslim women. In 2011, Canada made it so women wearing the niqab would have to uncover their face while taking a citizenship oath.

The issues of religious tolerance and Islamophobia orbited the niqab debate in recent weeks as Harper’s Conservative government tried to fight a court appeal that allowed Zunera Ishaq the right to wear a niqab while swearing in as a Canadian citizen. Ishaq, 29, was finally granted citizenship last week after obtaining residency in 2008. After her yearlong battle against the Canadian government, she took her oath with the niqab on, but still showed her uncovered face to an official before the ceremony.

While it may not have been a deciding factor for most voters, the issue drew international attention. Most Canadians actually support the ban, according to a poll compiled by the Conservative government. Nonetheless, Canadians quickly grew tired of the debate.

“This campaign has been plagued with fearmongering and jingoism, making a farce of real issues,” Mike Kendrick of Edmonton wrote in a Facebook post with a picture of himself in a wrestling mask. “I’ve chosen to respond to Harper’s ridiculous tactics by ridiculing the very issue he’s forced on Canadians for weeks.” Others wore various masks to the polls and one citizen even donned a pumpkin as a message against the Conservative party.

“A face covering is permitted at the polls if the voter swears an oath attesting to their status as an elector and shows the required identification, Elections Canada spokeswoman Natalie Babin Dufresne confirmed,” according to the National Post.

What the niqab debate grew to symbolize though was tolerance and empathy in the face of a growing international movement of Islamophobia and xenophobia in the west and particularly in Europe. In fact, even comedian John Oliver jumped in to actively encourage voters to oppose Harper in the elections.

“Canadians from all across this country sent a clear message tonight. It’s time for a change in this country my friends, a real change,” Trudeau told a crowd last night. And while Trudeau has his fair share of supporters, despite being 3rd in polls only a few months ago, many in Canada simply appeared relieved that they wouldn’t be forced to live under Harper’s government anymore.

“What matters here is that Canadians voted for change,” Eric Hendry, a volunteer for the Liberal party, told VICE News. “But just to know that we defeated Stephen Harper’s political machine is so incredibly gratifying.”


Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress