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Set the terms before deciding

Watch for some of this country’s most odious organizations, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, to get involved now that the issue of burkas and niqabs is heating up in this country.

In Quebec this week, a Muslim woman was sent home from a school exam for refusing to remove her face covering. The provincial government says it’s drafting new rules to prevent religious displays from those using public services.

The battle over such coverings has already come to a head in Europe, where France moved against them. Even very liberal Holland has brought in new rules compelling immigrants to adopt Dutch culture or face deportation.

The Swiss referendum to ban the construction of new minarets – associated with Muslim mosques – is another sign of a push back against Islam in the West.

In Canada, where immigrants are much more prevalent, we’ve been slow to tackle the growing problem. Political correctness has stifled debate. Let’s be clear, this is about more than just whether burkas are oppressive to women or if face coverings pose a security threat. Both are valid concerns, but the wider issues involve distrust of Islam – the movement, not necessarily the religion, though the public often makes no such distinction – and the defense of Canadian culture.

Older, more homogenous European countries have readily identifiable cultures. Immigrants make up small and often very visible minorities. Canada, on the other hand, is a country of immigrants. But the heritage of the original Anglo-Saxon and French settlers is still predominant, despite a Statistics Canada report released this week that shows the number of visible minorities rising dramatically, especially in Toronto.

When some people talk of protecting Canadian culture, even the very idea of such a thing is challenged. Others say such a stance is racist. It’s no wonder we’re not keen to start the debate.
That may change, however, if this week’s event in Quebec – and others like it – ends up in court or, worse still, a human rights agency. If things go that way, the legal wrangling will drag on for ages. And you can bet related issues will be dragged into the fray. At stake will be the ability of Canadians to protect this country’s history and to shape the kind of society they want.

Ideally, we’d overhaul the rules before the battle, the better to serve Canadians. The Charter of Rights is deeply flawed, but can’t be touched without constitutional headaches – it’s not going to happen. But the harmful Canadian Human Rights Act should go, along with the human rights commission and tribunal.

Both organizations function in undemocratic and extra-legal ways. Largely unaccountable, they operate with no rules of evidence, no presumption of innocence and don’t recognize truth as a defence. Critics call the process little more than a witch-hunt carried out by appointees with few qualifications but plenty of axes to grind.

Fairness demands they go. Then we go about deciding what kind of country we want to be.

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