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Canada electoral chief resists political push to bar face-covered Muslim women from polls

[JURIST] Canadian chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand [official profile] Thursday resisted calls by Canadian lawmakers to invoke his discretionary powers, reserved for exceptional circumstances, to require women to remove traditional Muslim niqabs or burqas [JURIST news archives] when they vote in by-elections in the province of Quebec on Monday. Mayrand said in testimony [recorded video] before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs [official website] that his position allowing them to vote accords with the recently passed Bill C-31 [text] on voting procedures, cited by many MPs as an effort to require voters to show their faces. Elections Canada [official website], an independent body that oversees national elections, announced September 6 that Muslim women will be allowed to wear [press release] veils and burqas and will not be required to show their faces [JURIST report] to vote so long as they are able to sufficiently prove their identity with photo IDs or other documentation. During his testimony Thursday, Mayrand sparred with MPs who claimed he was going against the will of the legislature, insisting that a bar "would be a request for me to amend the Act, not uphold the law" and maintaining that it is not his prerogative to "juggle" fundamental constitutional rights.

Earlier this week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper [official profile] voiced his disapproval [JURIST report] of the administrative decision allowing women to wear traditional Muslim face-covering garb while voting. CBC News has more. The Globe & Mail has additional coverage.

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