SHAFAQNA – The controversy over Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s approach to Muslims intensified Wednesday, as NDP leader Tom Mulcair accused him of fostering “intolerance” and helping create “Islamophobia.”
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, who began the attacks earlier this week by accusing Harper of spreading “fear” and “prejudice” of Muslims, jumped into the fray again on Wednesday.
In the House of Commons, Trudeau referred back to a quarter century ago when Harper was policy chief for the Reform party, which opposed allowing Sikh RCMP officers to wear their turbans while in uniform.
“We’ve seen this before,” Trudeau told the House. “Twenty five years later, why does he still insist that the majority should dictate the religious rights of minorities?”
Harper shot back, citing complaints from Jewish Canadian groups that said Trudeau spoke inappropriately earlier this week in comparing the rhetoric that led to Canada’s immigration policy for Holocaust-era Jews with fears now being spread about Muslins.
But the NDP and Liberal leaders were undeterred in their criticism of Harper.
At the heart of the politically-charged issue is the federal government’s position on whether Muslim women should be permitted to wear a niqab, which covers the face, during citizenship ceremonies.
For several years, the government has forbidden women from wearing the niqab in this circumstance. A court overturned that ban several weeks ago, and Harper said he would appeal the ruling because wearing the niqab then was “offensive” and “not how we do things here.”
Harper dug in his heels in the Commons this week, saying that wearing a niqab in citizenship ceremonies is “contrary to our own values” and is “rooted in a culture that is anti-women.’’
That remark prompted Mulcair on Wednesday to unleash his own criticism of Harper.
“My job is to try to make people feel more secure in our society, whatever their religion, whatever their origin,” said Mulcair.
“Right now, we’re in an unprecedented situation where the prime minister of Canada is using very divisive language and singling out a community,” he told reporters.
“Mr. Harper specifically singles out mosques. That leads to Islamophobia, and that’s irresponsible. “
“When you decree, as the prime minister of the country (did) in the House of Commons that the culture is anti-women, you’re fostering an intolerance within the population that is going to be receptive to that.“
At a news conference, Trudeau explained why he has leveled some serious allegations against Harper.
“I believe that leaders in this country need to stand up and defend peoples’ rights.
“What we’ve seen from this prime minister over the past month has been a campaign of fear. The politics of division and fear targeting the very real anxieties that Canadians feel around security.”
Trudeau said it was his responsibility to “call out” Harper for conduct that is “unbecoming of a Canadian prime minister.”
Treasury Board President Tony Clement defended Harper. He said the government isn’t blocking Muslims from wearing niqabs in their private life or on the job — just when they want to become a citizen.
He accused Mulcair and Trudeau of playing “wedge politics” on the issue — a charge which critics are leveling at the Tories for their recent statements on the niqab, evil “Jihadists” and the need for anti-terror legislation.
“The fact that Justin Trudeau is trying to expand this issue, is trying to politicize this issue, is trying to make political hay on the issue, tells you a lot more about his character than about the character of the prime minister of Canada,” said Clement.