Initiated by FAFIA – the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action

(Send support signatures to [email protected] by March 27, 2015)

We, the undersigned representatives of feminist organizations and individual feminists, wish to express our support for Zunera Ishaq and Rania El-Alloul and condemn the attacks on their human rights as guaranteed under Canadian and international law.

The rights of both women to religious freedom and to equality before and under the law are being violated. The unlawful policy imposed by former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney and the decision of Prime Minister Harper to appeal the recent Federal Court decision deny Zunera Ishaq access to Canadian citizenship. The discriminatory ruling by Quebec provincial court Judge Eliana Marengo denied Rania El-Alloul her right to equal treatment before the court.

In July Canada will be reviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The Committee will assess our government’s compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Human Rights Committee has highlighted violations of women’s Covenant- protected human rights that may result from state-imposed regulations on the clothing women wear in public. It specifically includes among the rights endangered by such regulations a woman’s rights to freedom of religion, to manifest in public her religious beliefs, and to be considered equal before courts and tribunals.

As reported in the media, an official spokesperson for the Prime Minister stated that “If someone is not covering their face, we believe they should be allowed to testify”. We categorically reject the presumption in this statement that it is up to the Prime Minister to tell women in Canada which articles of religious clothing they are and are not allowed to wear.

Feminists understand well that patriarchy demands or encourages women, depending on differing religions or cultures, to either cover or uncover our bodies, or parts of our bodies. We do not all agree about the implications for equality of covering or uncovering. But women need to control our own bodies, including what we wear, rather than being dictated to by political leaders, and being punished by losing access to our human rights.

In its February 6, 2015 judgment, the Federal Court held that then Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney unlawfully imposed a policy on citizenship judges that conflicts with their duty to allow candidates for citizenship the greatest possible religious freedom in affirming the oath of citizenship. The unlawful action of Jason Kenney was egregious enough. What is equally disturbing is the behavior of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the current Minister of Citizenship Chris Alexander, and Bloc Québécois leader Mario Beaulieu following the announcement of the Court decision.

Taking a leaf from the discredited playbook of the Parti Québécois, these politicians are attempting to mobilize support for their political agendas by fanning the flames of fear and prejudice against Muslim women and men. This behaviour poses a serious threat to our democracy and to the rights of all members of Canadian society. We know from history that the erosion of the fundamental rights and freedoms of everyone begins with attacks on the rights of the most vulnerable minorities.

Indeed, with Bill C-51 we are witnessing the speed with which the circle is widening of those whose rights are threatened. The provisions of that bill have been widely criticized by experts on civil and political rights as well as by former Justices of the Supreme Court of Canada and by four former Prime Ministers for giving vague, extensive and unaccountable powers to Canada’s security agency.

We support Rania El-Alloul in the complaint that she is pursuing against Judge Eliana Marengo before the Conseil de la magistrature du Québec and fully expect the Conseil to discipline the Judge.

We call on Prime Minister Harper to drop the appeal of the Federal Court decision and to restore the accommodations that allowed all Muslim women to take the oath of citizenship in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs prior to Jason Kenney’s unlawful December 2011 policy decision.

We further urge all members of Canadian society to reject the efforts of desperate politicians to divide Muslim and non Muslim Canadians along ethnic and religious lines in order to shore up their flagging political fortunes. If we fail to put a stop to this now we will wake up sooner than we realize in a Canada we no longer recognize.