[JURIST] Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper [official profile] Sunday voiced his disapproval of an administrative decision allowing Muslim women to wear veils and burqas while voting in upcoming by-elections in the province of Quebec. Elections Canada [official website], an independent body that oversees national elections, announced Thursday that Muslim women will be allowed to wear [press release] traditional Muslim niqabs or burqas [JURIST news archives] and will not be required to show their faces [JURIST report] to vote so long as they are able to sufficiently prove their identity with photo IDs or other documentation. Harper said the decision contradicted a unanimous vote in the House of Commons [official website] this past spring to make visual identification mandatory when casting a ballot. Harper noted that unless Elections Canada reconsiders its decision, parliament will have to find a way to make sure the House's ruling takes effect. Canadian chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand said Monday that there was nothing in Bill C-31 [text] on voting procedures that required voters to show their faces.
The issue came to a head in an election in March when Quebec's chief electoral officer [official website] refused to allow Muslim women to vote without showing their faces [CBC report], a move criticized as offensive to their religion by Muslim rights groups. Traditional Muslim face-covering garb and other religious dress [JURIST news archive] have recently become controversial as lawmakers struggle to balance an individual's right to practice their religion with security concerns. AP has more. CTV has local coverage. The Globe & Mail has additional coverage.