In a struggle to be happy and free

Drystone Wall

Category: freedom Page 2 of 7

Surveillance wisdom


We’ve been hearing a lot about the niqāb lately, and I can’t remember the last time a piece of clothing has played such a large part in a Canadian election campaign. To bring the non-Canadians up to date, Zunera Ishaq was to become a Canadian citizen in 2012. When she learned that she would have to remove her niqāb to take the oath, she put the process on hold and began a legal battle. The result is that the Federal Court of Canada found the ban unlawful in February and she finally took the oath, wearing her niqāb, last week.

I have mixed feelings about this.

On one hand, the whole point of a citizenship ceremony is celebrate your new inclusion in Canadian society and to be seen doing so. If you don’t want to be seen and recognized, there’s no point in a ceremony. You may as well get your papers in the mail.

On the other hand, enacting a law to prevent people from wearing a niqāb at the citizenship ceremony seems like a very blunt instrument.

The problem is that there is no middle ground.

I can certainly see a problem with someone wanting to wear a niqāb for an identification photo. In 2002 a woman sued the state of Florida for preventing her from wearing a niqāb for her driver’s licence photo. A Florida appellate court ruled that covering her face defeats the whole point of having the photo, but allowed for the woman to have the photo taken in a private room with a female photographer.1 Interestingly, 15 other U.S states allow for driver’s licences with no photo to accommodate those who object to having their photos taken for religious reasons.2

Frankly though, the Florida solution makes no sense to me. If you’re pulled over, the police officer asks for your licence and registration, and immediately compares your photo to your face. Presumably, a woman wearing a niqāb who would only accept having her photo taken in a private room by a woman, will not agree to take it off for a male police officer on the side of the road. I suppose getting a female officer to check that her ID matches her face would be the only way, but that will take time. I hope the niqāb-wearing driver is patient because I see no way around this. She should certainly not get a pass because she’s wearing a niqāb.

Seemingly determined to double-down on the issue, the Conservative government has promised to introduce legislation to ban the wearing of the niqāb for all people delivering or receiving federal government services, should they be re-elected. While this may feel like a natural follow-up to the driver’s licence issue, I believe the Conservatives are playing on voter fears simply to get more votes. In fact, the CBC reported this interesting fact:

The leaders of the two largest federal public service unions say they are not aware of a single member who wears a niqāb — and accused Conservative Leader Stephen Harper of trying to distract voters with his plan to consider a ban on the wearing of face coverings in public sector work places.3

I can understand being proactive in hearing of a dangerous problem before it becomes a problem, but the timing of this ‘solution’ and the relative danger involved in the problem makes me agree with the unions’ accusation.

And for the record, I certainly do not agree with banning the niqāb, outright. Since when do we ban articles of clothing? I don’t like wedges, so would I suggest that we ban those too? Hell no. In circumstances where being able to identify the person is important, a niqāb-wearer would not be able to make the desired transaction, for example. If she wants to continue to wear the niqāb despite the inconveniences, that’s her choice.

  1. Wikipedia. Niqāb. Retrieved October 10, 2015.
  2. ibid.
  3. CBC News, “Niqabs in federal public service ‘absolutely not an issue’ union leader says,”

Conservative Canada

On September 21, PressProgress reported on Conservative candidate Ron Liepert at Sunday’s Calgary-Signal Hill all-candidates debate. Liepert responded to criticisms of the Conservatives’ controversial Bill C‑51, saying

I know there’s a whole group of people including a couple of the speakers here tonight who talk about civil liberties and about the freedom of having the right to pretty much choose to do what you like.

Folks, that’s not the country we live in.

I’d suggest that because of Conservative machinations, it is indeed not the Canada in which we live right now.

But is this what we want?

Thought dictators? Hardly.

I read a thought-provoking article by Joshua P. Morgan titled “Thought Dictators Gaining Force” in today’s Niagara Falls Review. The article does not appear on-line so I cannot post a link.

Joshua claims, and I’ll quote him so I don’t mangle his thought,

People often say it’s a free country. It’s really not. It actually costs a lot, including limits on your freedom you may or may not agree with.

One freedom that is gradually being eroded is the ability to answer to your own conscience and think for yourself. These restrictions are often portrayed as progressive, and therefore their mandatory nature excused.

I certainly agree that for everyone to enjoy freedoms, some activities must be curtailed. The only alternative is utter anarchy. But is the ability to think for ourselves being curtailed?

Morgan gives an example.

A Calgary bus driver who identifies as a traditional Christian says he would rather be fired than drive a bus painted with the LGBT pride flag. He says it is counter to his beliefs to support homosexuality; therefore he will not drive that bus.

But he does not have the right to refuse. The union collective agreement says he can only refuse to work over safety issues, thus the city says he has no choice but it take the wheel if they tell him to.

I say this is wrong. He should be free to decline to participate in something that runs counter to his faith.

I recall hearing about this news story but I didn’t think too much about it and recall not really knowing whether I agreed that the driver should be able to refuse to drive that particular bus or not. Let me leave this issue for a moment and present Morgan’s second example.

…I found it offensive when Justin Trudeau announced he was making it mandatory for all of his candidates and MPs to vote pro-choice if they wanted to run under the Liberal banner.

By insisting on this position, he is not only obliging his members into a position they may not agree with, but he is forcing anyone who votes Liberal to effectively endorse abortion.

Honestly, I don’t think this is a very good example.

I believe that Trudeau took so much flack for this announcement because the topic he ruled upon is so controversial, and also because he said that he wouldn’t monkey with the nomination process of Liberal MPs. The trouble I had with Trudeau on this issue is he seemed to be restricting the ability of MPs to represent their constituents. Imagine the unlikely riding in which every single person was anti-abortion. The Liberal MP representing this riding could not vote as his constituents would like. But upon a little reflection, I think Trudeau was a lot more forthright than the NDP. According to the CBC, the leader of the NDP, Thomas Mulcair, has stated that no NDP minister “will ever vote against a woman’s right to choose.” If that’s the case, isn’t it exactly the same thing? At least Trudeau is putting it out there to let everyone know.

Further, MPs are expected to side with their party when many, if not most, votes are called. Indeed, they even have a special name for votes in which the party leader announces that MPs are free to vote as they please: free votes. Morgan’s claim that anyone who votes Liberal is forced to support abortion conveniently ignores that no one is forced to vote Liberal, so no one is forced to support abortion. It’s a non-issue.

It’s funny because before I thought the issue through, I felt as Morgan does about Trudeau. After some thought, I realize that he’s simply making his intentions known before the election, which forced the other party leaders to do the same.

The bus driver issue also came into clearer focus after some thought and I disagree with Morgan on this topic as well.

The Calgary Transit pride bus.

Jesse Rau drives a city bus. Homosexuality may be against his beliefs, but a bus with a LGBT rainbow on it doesn’t force him to partake in homosexuality, nor accept it in any way. No rational person believes the words and symbols on the outside of a city transit bus mean that the driver is a believer or even supporter of those words. He’s simply the bus driver. Have we ever seen a Jewish driver refuse to drive a bus with a McDonald’s ad on the side because McDonalds’ food is not kosher in North America? Has a Muslim driver ever refused to drive a bus with a humane society ad that has a dog photo? In 2013, Atheist groups around the world ran bus ads that espoused their beliefs and although there was controversy, I don’t recall reading that any transit employees refused to drive the buses. I’m sure there are plenty of other examples of people who work with examples of beliefs they do not share and somehow manage to understand that others sometimes have different beliefs.

If this Christian purist were allowed to choose the ads and decoration of the bus he drives, what’s next? Would Rau decide that he can’t carry LGBT passengers? The line has to be drawn somewhere that balances the freedom of the driver with everyone else’s freedom. The job is to drive a city bus and what’s on the outside of it doesn’t affect his ability to do the job. He insists that he’d rather be fired than drive the bus he’s assigned, and I’m willing to accept his decision. If he’d follow his conscience and simply quit, I could feel a modicum of respect for him choosing not to make a circus about the issue.

The buses certainly run on Sundays in Calgary. I wonder if Rau has ever worked on Sunday, because he might want to have a look at Exodus 35:2.

Pride bus photo courtesy of Calgary Transit.

Bullshit sexism

Lauren Wiggins is a New Brunswick high-school student who was doing nothing but minding her own business when she received a detention for breaking her school’s dress code. When she wrote a letter to the vice-principal expressing her opinion, they added a one day suspension to her detention.

Yes, she did break the dress code. That much is true. One can argue whether it is reasonable or not, but that isn’t what has me incensed. It’s what they told her. Unfortunately, the school is refusing to answer media enquiries, but the CBC reports that

says she was told the full-length halter dress she wore to school on Monday was considered “inappropriate” and a “sexual distraction” to fellow students.

The dress Wiggins was punished for wearing.

I call bullshit. High school is the last stage of preparation that young people receive before going out into the world or pursuing higher education. Telling a young woman that she can’t wear certain clothing because of how the boys will react is a big problem. The school is telling the boys that they are not responsible for their actions, and even worse, that the girls are responsible for the boys’ actions. This is a very dangerous message to give to young people. Not only dangerous, but absolutely wrong.

Young people need to understand that they are responsible for their own actions. More importantly, they need to realize where their responsibility ends and other peoples’ begins. The school has this one entirely wrong and they’re enabling the boys’ poor behaviour.

If her dress was inappropriate, that’s fine. Say so. Don’t blame her if the boys haven’t been taught how to behave. Teach the boys how to behave and stop enabling their poor choices! But on the topic of the dress, I saw much worse in my high school days. I might be dating myself, but remember designer jeans? Like I said, much worse.

I’m also terribly disappointed that Wiggins was suspended for expressing her thoughts about the situation to the vice-principal. She posted her letter on her Facebook page and it’s entirely polite and reasonable. Suspension for expressing her thoughts politely is ridiculous. She ends her letter,

If you are truly so concerned that a boy in this school will get distracted by my upper back and shoulders then he needs to be sent home and practice self control.

Then she thanks the vice-principal and wishes him a nice day. Not only is she entirely correct, but she’s polite and eloquent… and for this she’s suspended? Ridiculous bullshit.

I’m glad she’s making a big stink about the situation and I hope the staff who handled this so poorly are taken to task for it. She deserves and apology and the way they handle things needs to change.

Photo from Lauren Wiggins’ Facebook page

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