A one-time school project gone terribly, terribly wrong.

14 September 2007

Thinkblogging the Democracy: Of Veiled Voters, Part II

I've been stewing on this for a couple of days. One of the reasons I blog is to interact with folks with a different point of view. In my earlier post on the veiled voter issue, a couple of people got my mental wheels spinning, and I think I have changed my mind on the issue.

I'm also suddenly embarrassed that I, and my country, are making such a damn big deal out of this.

I'm vaguely embarrassed by my statements made in ignorance. Norlinda commented below that a Muslim man may not exercise dominion over a woman in her choice of vote. I'm not sure this is true for all cultures that happen to be predominantly Islamic. But I'm willing to accept that it's about interpretation and culture rather than faith.

Hell, as recently as five years ago my own mother urged her daughter (on her wedding day) to include the phrase "love, honour, and obey" in her wedding vows (I tried to get Mme Metro to use that form of the vows, but she refused to obey me, since she hadn't vowed to do so. There's always a technicality). I actually knew someone once whose now-ex told her that she had to vote his way, and have seen discussions of this foolish bloody idea ere now on the netosphere.

So trying to make this a part of the issue only expands the debate (a-hem) beyond the veil and into religion and dogma, which are beyond the scope of this dicussion.

Norlinda also points out that minorities should be encouraged to vote. Hell, I can't figure out why they wouldn't--after all, it's the reason many of them came here, no? But it is true that immigrants are not voting in even the miserable proportions of the general public, which is why stiff, rich old white men are still very much the political power elite around here. Why stack the deck even further?

I was, and am, uncomfortable with the idea that a woman wearing a niqab should not be required to identify herself. But this is not the issue, really. What does the law say?

It seems acceptable for a veiled woman to show her face to another woman. But that's not at issue either. For reasons I will state below.

It behooves us to examine our motives carefully and be extraordinarily clear when we suggest that a section of the population must be disenfranchised or forced to violate the strictures of their faith. This is most surely the issue.

So I had some serious questions, some of which I phrased exceedingly badly, in that earlier post.

1) How many people are we really talking about here?
A: It doesn't matter.
If we make a conscious choice to discriminate, no matter what the reasons, then it doesn't matter if we're talking about ten, or ten million.

Everyone has the right to vote. So we say, and so it must ever be if we are to wear the name "democratic socialist monarchy" proudly.

2) What are current identification requirements?
A:It has been speculated that Harper passed the law without making rules on niqabs in order to scotch opposition to the bill. It also gives him a handy issue on which to strike a clear position many Canadians will instinctually agree with.

But personally I think it's just sloppy lawmaking. And the issue is a straw man.

Bill C-31, passed by the Conservative minority government with a little help from their good friends, states in summary:
"Before voting, electors must prove their identity and residential address by providing one piece of government-issued photo identification showing their name and residential address, or two pieces of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, each of which establishes their name and at least one of which establishes their residential address.

To vote, an elector may instead take an oath and be vouched for by another elector whose name is on the list of electors for the same polling division, and who has the necessary piece(s) of identification to establish his or her identity and residential address."
The law clearly states that a voter may vote without ID provided they are vouched for by someone who is themselves a verified voter in good standing.

3) Would it require any great change to ensure that a female officer of Elections Canada would be present at each polling station to vet veiled voters?
A: Since Canadians come in all sizes, shapes and colours, it seems to me that having one male and one female staffer at each station would be a smart thing. But the least we could do is assign one polling station per district to be "niqab-friendly", perhaps. And ensure that there is a woman there to check IDs as required. After all, if a cop has to search a woman, the cop had better be a woman too.

But since the law states that a voter need only be vouched for, it's really irrelevant, see #2

4) How do countries where the niqab is a common sight handle such questions?
A: Alas, many of them don't have the pleasant fantasy we call "democratic government." Others appear to rely on variants of the Canadian method.

So the law is on the side of veiled voting. End o' story.

Personally, I dislike veils. And in this, I think, I am like most "westerners". I see them primarily as a symbol of oppression (doubly so because I am a nontheist). They make the wearer seem distrustful and secretive in a society that claims to value openness, they remove the cues of facial expression from our conversations and render the wearer ever strange.

I also worry a bit that siding with a religious tradition that seems oppressive is edging into uncomfortable territory for a democracy that is supposed to be secular.

But as a former Catholic, I am also aware of the outward symbolism of one's submission to the will of God, be he whomever you choose. And freedom to worship is important.

There may be sound reasons to change the law, but as it stands, a veiled woman has the right to vote, just as does any other Canadian. And one should certainly be careful in making rules respecting (or disrespecting) religion.

But, with all the above thrown into the mix, this still boils down to a very simple issue:

If a veiled citizen wishes to vote in a general election, then we owe that person the opportunity to do so, or else risk losing everything this country stands for and has achieved.

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At 11:02 a.m., Blogger Wandering Coyote said...

Good post, Metro. I love how this blogging thing helps us consider a subject more closely after having input from other sides. Kinda like my Cerne Abbas Giant thing from the summer. We're human; therefore, we're allowed to change our minds. And you were very eloquent about it.

At 12:10 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too have learned a lot about this whole issue, from reading your post and the news surrounding the hearing, and reflecting on what this all means. At first I thought Marc Mayrand had some hidden agenda, intentionally forcing the govt in many ways to rethink the law by drawing attention to it.
And then I read this on Tuesday's Globe and Mail:

Mr. Mayrand repeatedly stated that 80,000 people legally cast a ballot in the mail in the last federal election.
“However you are dressed when you mail your ballot doesn't matter,” he said, adding that it is up to MPs and senators to amend the act if they now want to force voters to uncover their faces to vote in federal elections.

Canadians living outside the country are voting without ever showing their faces. What does this say about how my government feels about Muslims living in Canada? I'm not getting any warm fuzzies.

BTW I think, from trawling the Net, that it was the media who initially brought attention to this whole issue.


At 5:22 p.m., Blogger Metro said...

Oh, I think I agree that the media started the ball rolling. But clearly it turns out to be a) about Harper and his frustration with things he cannot control, b) media desperation for anything now that Harper reserves his bon mots for the friendlies, and 3) about how unclear we are about what exercising the right to near-sovereign franchise means in this country.

Oh, and 4) Harper can score some cheap points in Quebec, known for cultural xenophobia and racism, during a fairly fraught byelection.

But I didn't like finding myself in agreement with a man who has so far been on the wrong side of Iraq, gay marriage, and so much else.

At 6:03 p.m., Blogger Wandering Coyote said...

Norlinda: excellent point re. voting by mail. I hadn't even thought of that, but of course, it's true.


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