Letter to the editor 1, Oct. 15, 2015

What it means to be Canadian

Dear Editor,

I am profoundly distressed at the nature of our current political discourse. And Stephen Harper has taken it to a new low, the likes of which I have never seen in the decades I have closely followed politics.

The list of reprehensible actions, inaction, policies and deceptions that characterize the Conservative government of the last 10 years is indeed a long one, one that makes them unworthy of our trust and our country a place I barely recognize. And that dismal record is only made worse by the cynical distractions of the Conservatives' exploitative campaign, most recently focusing on the non-issue of the niqab.

We are a country of law. We are not a country of polls that some believe should dictate law. But the issue goes much deeper than that. We are also a country of individual rights. If you value the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, then you must respect the protections of religious expression accorded therein. To make an emotional wedge issue out of a garment, religious or otherwise, is despicable and exemplifies everything that is wrong with our politics and with the tactics of the Conservative Party.

You will be hard-pressed to find a Muslim woman who feels forced to wear the niqab. And it is certainly not our place to judge how and when religious expression is displayed as long as it does not contravene our laws or infringe upon our Charter rights. To hear cabinet ministers conflate the niqab with "barbaric cultural practices" akin to "honour killings" and create a "tip line" for us to rat on our neighbours because of something that runs against our sensibilities is truly loathsome. And to appeal to the emotions of people when there are serious issues to talk about is not only irresponsible but hateful, meant only to create division among us.

In a very real sense, we are all immigrants. Our ancestors brought with them to these shores their own customs and cultural expressions. When immigrants become citizens, they can remain fully loyal to what it means to be a citizen of a country that respects those liberties without sacrificing those customs. To argue that the niqab is a form of religious or misogynistic oppression only betrays the malicious misrepresentation of those who would make such a claim. We may not feel comfortable seeing women wear the niqab, but there was a time when we felt ill at ease seeing Sikh men wear turbans and yet they've taken their place in the ranks of the RCMP.

When I greet people who have chosen to make their home here with a hello or a thank-you in their native language, their eyes light up. How then can one look at the faces of those immigrants and believe that they must conform in every possible way to our narrow vision of what is acceptable? That is not the vision I have for the country that has always been my home. If the Conservatives want to talk about Canadian values, then let's talk about real Canadian values and, in so doing, exercise reason, respect and compassion. To do otherwise is a betrayal of what it means - and has always meant - to be Canadian.

Wayne Saray


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