National Newswatch

LAC-MEGANTIC, Que. — A Quebec NDP candidate who proposed reopening the Constitution to revisit freedom of religion in order to rule on the question of niqabs now says his comments were ill-considered and “contradictory.”

In a written statement issued Saturday morning through an NDP spokesperson, Megantic-L’Erable candidate Jean-Francois Delisle said his remarks were “ill-considered and contradictory and do not reflect my priorities or those of the party.”

In a Friday interview with The Canadian Press, Delisle said he was “personally” opposed to the wearing of niqabs while swearing the oath of citizenship, a topic that has recently resurfaced during the election campaign, and has been especially problematic for the NDP.

During the exchange Delisle went as far as to suggest the NDP — which hopes to obtain a mandate to negotiate with the provinces to reopen the Constitution to abolish the Senate — could kill two birds with one stone by taking the opportunity to solve the niqab debate by constitutional means.

“Thomas Mulcair is ready to open the Constitution for the Senate, so why wouldn’t he be ready to open it up on this issue?” he asked, going on to suggest Canada should update its understanding of freedom of religion.

“The freedom of religion that was, in the 1980s — the one that was put in place (in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms) by the legislators of the day — is not necessarily the same freedom of religion we have today,” he said.

He said radical movements have become more commonplace and it would be a shame if these types of groups were granted greater freedom than the majority.

The short statement Delisle issued Saturday morning did not directly address his personal views, but rather tried to re-orient the conversation by stating the Constitution “was not one of our (the NDP’s) priorities for the citizens of Lac-Megantic, who first and foremost want a (rail) bypass.”

Nevertheless, Delisle may have opened a Pandora’s box with his proposals, which were jumped upon by partisans, candidates and strategists from the other parties who know the suggestion of a constitutional quarrel can be an effective threat during campaign time.

When it comes to the issue of niqabs during citizenship ceremonies, the NDP has been walking on eggshells compared to their rivals, whose views are more established, and easier to summarize. The Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois are against. The Liberals are in favour.

The niqab question entered the campaign earlier this week after the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that a federal ministerial directive forbidding Muslim women from wearing a niqab during ceremonies was invalid.

One day later, federal Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced in a statement the government would seek leave to appeal the ruling before the Supreme Court of Canada.

On Friday, the Conservatives asked the courts to suspend the judgment while awaiting word from the high court.

The legal battle has been fought by an Ontario woman named Zunera Ishaq, 29, who wants to be allowed to wear a niqab while swearing the oath of citizenship.


Melanie Marquis, The Canadian Press

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