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Feds in Canada revive veil issue
 Harper government bill would force citizens to bare their faces to vote
By ALAN FINDLAY, NATIONAL BUREAU
The Ottawa Sun

The Conservative government revived a controversy focused largely on veiled Muslim women by announcing plans to legally require all voters to show their face before casting a ballot in a federal election.

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan introduced legislation yesterday that would amend the Elections Act in response to an Elections Canada decision earlier this fall that its officers could not legally require someone to show his or her face before voting.

That issue landed on the politicians' laps amidst a broader issue in Quebec over how far the province should go to accommodate ethnic minorities.

"During the recent by-elections in Quebec, the government made it clear that we disagreed with the decision by Elections Canada to allow people to vote while concealing their face," stated Van Loan, the minister for democratic reform.

Sun Media in Montreal learned yesterday that the Liberal government in Quebec lead by Jean Charest will be introducing a bill this Thursday that will force Quebec citizens to uncover their faces in order to vote in provincial, municipal and school elections.

The bill, which is being introduced by Benoit Pelletier, the minister responsible for voting reform, will be put on the daily order of business of the National Assembly the following day.

Following the Charest government's calendar the bill should be enacted in time for by-elections in the Bourget and Pointe-aux-Trembles ridings to be held to elect replacements for departing PQ members Diane Lemieux and Andre Boisclair.

The piece of legislation, which is very short, will modify the election and referendum law for municipal and school elections and the Quebec Elections Act.

During the initial veil controversy in September, all of the political parties spoke out against Elections Canada's position.

But yesterday's response to the government's amendment was greeted with suggestions that the debate was being revived for political gain.

"I'm not going to make policy on the fly," said deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who said he still supports a solution requiring proper identification of all voters. "I'm just telling you my personal opinion, that what I don't like about this whole project is the idea that we take a bunch of women wearing veils and we make a whole big deal about this."

NDP Leader Jack Layton was similarly skeptical about the urgent need to address the matter, but didn't comment on the bill's specifics.

Canadian Arab Federation national president Khaled Mouammar called the issue a red herring that whips up emotions around a small number of women.

"We're dealing with, at most, 100 people across Canada who might wear the full veil," said Mouammar. "It's being made a big issue to hopefully win votes because people aren't aware of the fact that 80,000 people vote by mail."

His remarks were echoed by the Canadian Islamic Congress.

Shahina Siddiqui, a board member of the Canadian arm of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said being able to take off a veil behind a curtain and before a woman is helpful in solving the debate.

"I think that is a good thing -- that it's inclusive," she said from her Winnipeg office. "The last thing anyone would want is to discourage ... anyone from taking part in the democratic process."