September 12th, 2007

Baby and me

Shock! Horror! I Was Wrong! (And So Are a Lot of You!)

I don't normally read the Globe and Mail's editorials for any reason but to keep an eye on what the enemy is thinking. Granted, I sometimes do agree with them, but until yesterday I don't think one of those editorials has ever changed my thinking about a major political issue.

Yesterday saw the unthinkable happen: the Globe convinced me I was %100 wrong about something!

As many of you are aware (and about which a number of you have posted comments), Elections Canada recently ruled that Muslim women who wear face-covering burkas or hijabs need not lift their veils when identifying themselves at the polling booth, provided they have two pieces of government-issued ID or are accompanied by a citizen who can swear to their identity.

All four of our major political parties have objected to this ruling, as have at least two major Muslim organizations. And - like some of you - I had thought of perhaps showing up at the polls during the next election wearing some kind of face-covering to protest what I took to be some kind of "political correctness" run amok.

But the Globe got it right and I (and probably you) got it wrong (italics in the excerpts below are mine).

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other federal leaders are pandering to Quebecers' fears about Islam...they have declared that veiled Muslim women should not be able to vote without showing their face. The leaders have seized on a potent symbol of a religious minority trying to impose its way on the country. But the symbol is a false one, and the leaders know it. Not saying so is cowardly and irresponsible...

Protecting the integrity of the voting system is essential, but the rules designed by Parliament for that purpose do not require photo identification. A voter who shows her face without also showing a photo identification card has verified nothing. Voters don't have to show a photo identification card for the simple reason that many - those without drivers' licenses, for instance - do not have such a card. That is why the Elections Act offers alternatives. Those without government-issued photo ID may show two pieces of identification approved by the Chief Electoral Officer, as long as one shows their address. Or they may have another voter vouch for them (no more than one person per "voucher"), if each swears an oath.

If the system for verifying a voter's identity with written identification or sworn statements is considered good enough for other Canadians, it should be good enough for those who cover their faces for religious reasons. That is why Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand says he will permit veiled women to vote as long as their identity can be confirmed. He was not making a special accommodation. He was applying the law as it stands.

So, mea culpa for my knee-jerk reaction to the original story and kudos to The Globe for cutting through divisive and pandering to the bigots among us and the bigotry within us.