Jason Kenney on the niqab, the oath and #PeopleLikeNenshi

The Defence Minister on government policy: 'The public citizenship oath done in a court in front of a judge and one's fellow citizens should be done publicly'

(CP photo)

(CP photo)

Earlier today, Defence Minister Jason Kenney spoke to Maclean’s contributor Evan Solomon. Here is a transcript of their conversation:


Evan Solomon:   Joining me now, Jason Kenny. Jason Kenney, great to have you on Everything is Political.

Hon. Jason Kenney:    And it’s great to be on your new show, and I’m glad it’s going well, Evan.

Evan Solomon:  Yeah. You know, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Calgary Mayor, who you know well, was on this show, and he called Stephen Harper’s views on the niqab and your party’s views on the niqab dangerous, dog whistle politics. And then you had responded in an interview, saying, quote, “it seems to me that the Mayor and people like him who are politicizing it.” And then he said “people like me,” he tweeted back. What did you mean when you said “people like him”?

Hon. Jason Kenney:  Well, that was actually part of a 20-minute interview I did with the Calgary Herald. I’ll be happy to send you the transcript, in which I said that – I think I referred to, quotes, politically correct Liberals who were politicizing this issue. Frankly, Evan, I think this shouldn’t be a matter of great contention.

What the government is saying in policy that I articulated as an administrative policy back in the fall of 2011, is very simply this: that the public citizenship oath that is done in a court in front of a judge and one’s fellow citizens should be done publicly. I can’t – you know, quite frankly, when I first addressed this issue four years ago, I hardly thought it would be contentious. I made this announcement at a roundtable attended by Muslim women in Montreal who unanimously applauded the decision. I believe it’s supported by the vast majority of Canadian Muslims. I know it’s supported by the overwhelming majority of Canadians, one poll indicating 85 per cent support.

And so my response to my friend Naheed Nenshi was simply to say that some of the hyperbolic language that’s being used to critique this sensible reinforcement of the public nature of the citizenship oath is, I think, unhelpful, and is actually inflaming the situation.

Evan Solomon:  OK. So you know there’s now this whole trending hashtag, #PeopleLikeNenshi, because there was assumption, and I think it was fair, to suggest this from what Naheed Nenshi tweeted that when – the people like me, they thought that that was a veiled reference, maybe a xenophobic reference, because he’s a Muslim.

Hon. Jason Kenney:   Well, come on, Evan. That’s – you know, that’s completely ridiculous, and so does Naheed. He’s a friend of mine. We – he — knows how close I am to all of the cultural, ethnic, and religious communities in Canada, particularly his own Ismaili community. By the way, the vast majority of Canadian Muslims, particularly Ismaili Muslims that I know, strongly support our government’s reinforcement of the public nature of the public citizenship oath. So you know perfectly well, Evan, that’s just political mischief by some people on Twitter. That’s not – that’s beneath anyone.

Evan Solomon:   So the words are being misinterpreted?

Hon. Jason Kenney:  Evan, I was very clear in saying that what I characterized as politically correct Liberals are —

Evan Solomon:                    Right.

Hon. Jason Kenney:     — unnecessarily inflaming what should not really be a contentious matter. I think, you know, the fact – you – as Darrell Bricker of Ipsos Reid said about this issue, an 85 per cent support for a policy is as close as you ever get to unanimity. You know, I – my point is this. For critics of the policy like Naheed to suggest that the government is being divisive is counter-factual. The truth is, if anything —

Evan Solomon:   Well, his – his point —

Hon. Jason Kenney:   — the truth is – the truth – if I could finish. The truth is —

Evan Solomon:   Go ahead, go ahead.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           The truth is, if anything, we’re uniting Canadians on this issue, and I believe uniting Muslim Canadians. And I believe that some folks who you might characterize as politically correct cultural relativists are unhelpfully inflaming – creating contention on this issue where there really is very little.

Evan Solomon:    OK, well, there is not – you know and I know that things about religious accommodation are not clear cut, and there’s lots of litmus tests. Stephen Harper made one litmus test: I wouldn’t force my daughter to wear a veil. But you and I both know that is not the litmus test as to where the state should intervene. For example, there’s the wig that Orthodox Jewish women wear; there’s the issue of circumcision. We accommodate all sorts of religious practices in this country. This is another one. It’s not an issue of identification, that two women in the citizenship ceremony would be more than happy to have themselves identified in private. This is an issue of religious accommodation. And on that, it is a little less clear cut than you might be making it out to be.

Hon. Jason Kenney:  Well, I think you framed that question in the – in the kind – which – in a way that reflects the fuzzy-minded thinking of politically correct cultural relativists who are unable to make clear and obvious distinctions. Because, Evan, the government is not seeking – in fact, I think very few people in Canada are seeking – to regulate any public expressions of individuals’ religions. I have said explicitly from day one when I announced this policy in, I believe, November of 2011, that I and our government oppose the idea of banning the wearing of the niqab in public.

Look, I find the symbol profoundly offensive. I believe it reflects a misogynistic culture that — a treatment of women as property rather than people, which is anchored in Medieval tribal customs as opposed to any religious obligation, but I do not seek to regulate people wearing this objectionable symbol if they choose to do so. All we are —

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Evan Solomon:  But as Nenshi points out —

Hon. Jason Kenney:     — all we are —

Evan Solomon:    — as Nenshi points out, the courts, the federal Court of Appeal has already made a decision on it. You’re challenging it. It’s costing taxpayers $300,000. And he’s saying why are you doing it. It’s not about defending women’s rights. He’s saying – he’s suggesting it’s dog whistle politics about something that’s different, and it plays well politically, and it’s really about – it’s a Trojan horse for other issues of differences. And nobody’s done more work in multicultural communities than you. I know that, and I’ve seen it with my own eyes. But this issue – and I’m quoting Nenshi speaking to me – he believes this is a fundamental dog whistle politics, and the – and you’re running against the courts because you know it’s popular.

Hon. Jason Kenney:  So first of all, Evan, I believe Naheed said that the government is spending millions of dollars appealing this; you just said it was 300 dolla– $300,000. So he’s wrong by orders of magnitude on the costs. Second, we obviously —

Evan Solomon:    Well, all I got is a quote.

Hon. Jason Kenney:   I’m quoting him. Secondly, obviously, the government has an obligation to defend in court its policies when they are challenged. Thirdly, the federal court has not commented on this as being a violation of any putative Charter right, but rather has said that the court believes that the policy ought to be anchored in legislation or regulation as opposed to an administrative order from the Minister. We disagree with that. But this is not a Charter ruling.

And finally, as I’ve said, this is – why are you talking about Jewish women’s wigs and people wearing turbans? That has nothing whatsoever to do with this. This is about —

Evan Solomon:   Why isn’t it?

Hon. Jason Kenney:  — (crosstalk).

Evan Solomon:                    I mean, that’s – that’s – but why isn’t it – are they allowed to wear that at a citizenship ceremony? I know this is – you’re going to say it’s about covering —

Hon. Jason Kenney:  Of course.

Evan Solomon:   — the face, but it’s about a religious practice. It’s not – it’s one that —

Hon. Jason Kenney:           No, it’s (crosstalk).

Evan Solomon:                    — you may not like.

Hon. Jason Kenney:   OK. I would submit you’re wrong on all of the – all of the above points, Evan. We’ve – first of all, you ought not to accept the claim that this is a religious practice. I think that’s, frankly, problematic for Islam, for well-intentioned Liberals like you to say that this is a religious practice when the overwhelming consensus of Islamic scholars around the world, and the overwhelming majority of Canadian Muslims, believe this has absolutely – that the niqab as face covering, that this symbol of misogyny has nothing to do with Islam. Did you know, by the way, Evan —

Evan Solomon:    Sorry. Before you – before you just dismiss me as – of – as a Liberal who has situational ethics, to be fair, religions evolve. There’s all sorts of religious practices that become religion that you cannot go back to the strict text. You and I both know. And religions, of course sects differ as to what they call part of their sect. You don’t have to agree with them, I don’t have to agree with them. I may think the niqab is a symbol of repression of women, you might, but someone else doesn’t. And the question here is does – should the state enforce a rule? If you can identify this woman privately, what difference does it make if she shows her face at a citizenship ceremony?

Hon. Jason Kenney:  OK. You’ve asked a question several times. Please allow me to inter—answer without interrupting.

So just to finish the point on this – the putative religious obligation, there’s not a word in the Quran or the Hadith that requires that women cover their faces. To the contrary, the only requirement is that they uncover their faces when they’re doing the haj. This is why the vast major—and here’s a critical point, Evan. Because those who are arguing for allowing face – people to obscure their faces while taking the citizenship oath are, I think, unintentionally legitimizing this symbol of the oppression of women, this misogynistic symbol that’s rooted a Medieval tribal culture.

Now, why is it that we are asking people to do this? It’s because it is a public oath of loyalty done in a court in front of a judge, in front of one’s fellow citizens. It is axiomatic, Evan, to say that a public oath, a public declaration of one’s solemn intent, must be done publicly. And —

Evan Solomon:  But it’s not axiomatic.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           — not – not with one’s identity obscured, first point. Second point —

Evan Solomon:  But it’s – first of all, it’s not axiomatic.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           — second point (crosstalk). Second point —

Evan Solomon:                    It’s not.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           — second point – second point —

Evan Solomon:                    Because they’re identified in a different way.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           Sec–

Evan Solomon:                    Go ahead.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           I’m sorry. Second point – I asked – just asked to be – to try to answer the question you keep asking me. The first point is it’s a public declaration of loyalty in a court that has to be axiomatically done publicly.

Secondly, it is impossible for the judge to verify that the person is taking the oath, as the law requires of the judge, unless he can actually see them reciting the oath. So there’s those two obvious reasons, which is why, Evan, like 85 percent of Canadians think this is – this is not a matter of contention, it’s a sensible policy now.

Evan Solomon:                    Well, OK. Hold —

Hon. Jason Kenney:           Some people say —

Evan Solomon:                    — hold – I —

Hon. Jason Kenney:           — some people say, rather than – if you need – if the judge needs to verify they take the oath, I think Mr. Trudeau said this at one point, then they could be taken into a separate room.

Evan Solomon:                    Right.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           And – and administered the oath there. And my response is I cannot think of a more disturbing message to send than, at the very moment that someone becomes a citizen, which is to join the body politic, which is to commit – make a public act of loyalty to one’s fellow citizens, that they should be segregated on the grounds of gender and ostensibly religion.

Evan Solomon:                    No, I know, but —

Hon. Jason Kenney:           I think that’s profoundly troubling.



Evan Solomon:                    — it’s the question of – OK. OK. The showing of the face is clearly a litmus test. I – just in the spirit of time, there’s a couple of other issues. And because of the French language debate coming up tonight, Bill C24, this is about the idea that you can revoke dual citizens’ citizenship if they’ve committed an act of terror. And Zakaria Amara, the ringleader of the Toronto 18, born in Jordan, had his citizenship revoked. But now there’s a different case, this case of Saad Gaya, who was convicted along in the Toronto 18, but he was born and raised in Canada. He’s 27 years old. This would be the first time ever that a – someone born and raised in Canada would have their citizenship revoked. Now, you know critics have said and accused your government and your party of two classes of citizens, one who can be banished and one who can’t. Will – would – is Mr. Gaya going to have his citizenship revoked, and what is the explanation for that?

Hon. Jason Kenney:   The explanation, Evan, is that if you hate Canada so much that you are prepared to, in an act of mass political violence, kill your fellow citizens in an act of terrorism, or if you’re – if you hate our country so much that you joined a – you join a terrorist organization that is targeting Canada or Canadians, you take up arms against our country through some form of violent treason, you are repudiating, you are forfeiting, you are renouncing your Canadian citizenship through your own actions, and the – and we should read your actions accordingly.

Now, Mr. Trudeau’s position, Mr. Mulcair’s position, is renunciation of citizenship is possible, but it requires you to fill out a form, sign it, and send it in to the Immigration Office. Well, I’m sorry. I think if you, like this fellow in Syria, burn and shoot your Canadian passport while belonging to a genocidal terrorist organization that has declared war on Canada, that we should read that for what it is, a renunciation —

Evan Solomon:                    But that – but this is —

Hon. Jason Kenney:           — of your citizenship.

Evan Solomon:                    OK, I get so. But hang on. You’re now – this is the first time you could revoke the citizenship of someone born in Canada, so they’re – because you – there’s a connection here to Pakistan. But that means —

Hon. Jason Kenney:           No, it’s not.

Evan Solomon:                    Is —

Hon. Jason Kenney:           No, it’s not the first time. No, it’s not the first time. You’re mistaken —

Evan Solomon:                    OK, who actually was —

Hon. Jason Kenney:           — actually —

Evan Solomon:                    — born and raised in Canada who’s had their citizenship revoked —

Hon. Jason Kenney:           You know, 19 —

Evan Solomon:                    — that’s not a dual citizenship?

Hon. Jason Kenney:           — between 1946 and 1977, in the original Citizenship Act, committing – joining a foreign army that was in hostility against Canada was grounds for citizenship renunciation. That – there was a separate charge of course for treason.

Evan Solomon:                    Treason, that’s right.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           And – and – no, no. That was – that was renunciation – sorry, revocation, if you were involved in a army that was engaged in acts of war against Canada. In addition to that, there of course was the charge of treason, for which there was only one punishment: execution. So we never actually got around to revoking. In the case, for example, of the guy known as the Kamloops Kid, he was a Canadian-bor—a person born in Canada of Japanese origin, went to Japan, committed war crimes against —

Evan Solomon:                    Right.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           — Canadian troops, and he was executed by Canada. This is the Barack Obama administration policy, by the way.

Evan Solomon:                    OK, but hang —

Hon. Jason Kenney:           When they – when they have an Americ—when they have American citizens who commit terrorist acts against Americans and they’re abroad, they don’t bother revoking their citizenship.

Evan Solomon:                    Well, so —

Hon. Jason Kenney:           They send – they send drones with missiles after them.

Evan Solomon:                    OK. Well, we’ll – I assume you’re not suggesting that’s a good idea for Canada.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           I’m not. I’m just demonstrating —

Evan Solomon:                    OK.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           — how moderate our position is —

Evan Solomon:                    How moderate?

Hon. Jason Kenney:           — compared to that of the Obama administration.

Evan Solomon:                    OK. Can I – can I ask you – can I – let me ask you a question. One of the key issues here is that it would be the Minister who can revoke the citizenship, not a neutral judge. And this is – has some people deeply concerned about the politicization, this idea that there are two classes of citizens. And if you, the government, says, whether it’s for a serial killer, as Stephen Harper suggested, or for a terrorist, or for some heinous act, the Minister can say you know what, I’m revoking your citizenship. And then suddenly citizenship isn’t a right, it’s something that can be given and taken at the whim of the Minister.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           Well, first of all, Evan, it’s – all – citizenship in our law has always been alienable, either through an individual voluntarily renouncing their citizenship, or, if they obtained it fraudulently, as the Prime Minister pointed out, it’s on these grounds that we have revoked citizenship from convicted war criminals.

Secondly, the – it is – does not include serial murderers or any kinds of criminality. You should read the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act.

Evan Solomon:     All right.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           Bill C24 stipulates three kinds of offences, which are all basically violent acts of disloyalty –

Evan Solomon:                    And will that be expanded —

Hon. Jason Kenney:           — against Canada.

Evan Solomon:                    — the question was will that be expanded.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           No.

Evan Solomon:                    Stephen Ha—OK.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           Absolutely.

Evan Solomon:                    It will not? OK.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           No. It will not. It will not. It will be – here’s the point. The point is, if you violently attack Canada, if you hate our country so much that you express the renunciation of your citizenship through violent intent, we’re going to read that as a forfeiting of your citizenship. Most —

Evan Solomon:                    Why can’t we just —

Hon. Jason Kenney:           — most other —

Evan Solomon:                    — put them in jail for life?

Hon. Jason Kenney:           — most other (crosstalk) —

Evan Solomon:                    Why doesn’t our —

Hon. Jason Kenney:           — most other —

Evan Solomon:                    — existing laws deal with that? I’m honestly asking. Why don’t we have existing laws, if that’s so bad, the criminal justice system deals with that person, throw him in jail for life, end of story?

Hon. Jason Kenney:           Well, as – first of all, as you know, there’s no such thing as actual life imprisonment in Canada. The – the individual, Mr. Amara, who was the Toronto 18 ringleader, who hates Canada so much that he wanted to kill hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens in an act of mass political violence, he will be eligible for parole in a couple of years. He could very well be walking the streets of a country that he hates so much he wanted to attack violently.

So the second point here, Evan, is that yes, there are criminal sanctions. There will —

Evan Solomon:                    All right.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           — continue to be criminal sanctions to deal with the criminal aspect of this. But what I’m telling you is that, if you take up arms against Canada through a terror organization, if you’re convicted of a court of doing so, that we will read that as what it is, which is repudiation of your citizenship. There’s that young fellow in Syria who burned and shot his passport as a member of ISIS. Mr. Trudeau’s position is that he should be able to go to an embassy and we issue – we should issue him a new passport and welcome him back to Canada. We quite frankly think that’s perverse. If we —

Evan Solomon:                    Well —

Hon. Jason Kenney:           — are able to, we will revoke —

Evan Solomon:                    All right.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           — his citizenship so he can’t come back to Canada because, through the destruction of his passport while belonging to a terror organization that’s declared hostility to our country, he has, in effect, renounced his citizenship.

Evan Solomon:                    You know, there’s a lot of issues you and I can talk about, I know, but we’re running out of time – obviously the Syrian situation. I got to leave it there today. I hope to have you back to talk about an evolving and very complex situation as the Russians are bombing in Syria, as you know; the French —

Hon. Jason Kenney:           Yup.

Evan Solomon:                    — language debate tonight on the niqab will be a very big issue. Jason Kenney, always great to ha—talk to you again, and thanks for coming on Everything is Political. I hope to do it again.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           Thanks for the good questions. I appreciate it. I look forward to doing it again, Evan. All the best.

Evan Solomon:    Yeah, all right. We’ll talk to you soon. Thanks.

Hon. Jason Kenney:           Thank you. Bye-bye.

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