OTTAWA — The federal government has quietly dropped the idea of forcing veiled women to show their faces if they want to vote in Canadian elections.
The loss of interest comes just as the issue of face coverings is heating up overseas, with President Nicolas Sarkozy declaring that the Islamic burka is “not welcome” in France.
Steven Fletcher, Canada’s minister of state for democratic reform, confirmed Thursday that the government has no plan to proceed with legislation requiring voters to uncover their faces.
The issue came to a boil in Canada in 2007, during three hotly contested federal byelections in Quebec where debate was already raging over how far the province should go to accommodate cultural differences.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper blasted Elections Canada after the independent electoral watchdog refused to require veiled byelection voters to show their faces at polling stations.
Opposition Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois joined the chorus of condemnation.
er and the issue was examined more closely.
Chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand noted that the recently adopted changes to the Canada Elections Act did not, in fact, authorize the agency to compel visual identification of voters.
Moreover, it was pointed out that thousands of Canadians have no photo ID. Requiring them to show their faces would be meaningless without photo identification against which to verify their identities.
By the time the government introduced a law to compel visual identification, Liberal and NDP support had pretty much dried up. The bill died when last fall’s election was called.