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Canada government introduces bill requiring Muslim women to lift veils to vote

[JURIST] Canada's minority Conservative Party [party website] government introduced legislation Friday that would require Muslim women wearing a veil to show their faces before voting. Bill C-6 [text] on "visual identification of voters" is said to be designed to combat voter fraud. If adopted, the new law could be enforced by Elections Canada [official website] staff taking voters to separate rooms to show their faces before voting. The bill provides an exception for facial bandages; in that case, voters would be required to present two proofs of identity or be accompanied by a qualified elector able to vouch for them. The Quebec provincial government [official website] followed suit Saturday, announcing it too plans to introduce legislation that would ban fully veiled women from voting [AFP report].

The veiled voting issue came to a head in March ahead of scheduled byelections in Quebec when Quebec's chief electoral officer [official website] refused to allow Muslim women to vote without showing their faces [CBC report]. The move was criticized as offensive by Muslim rights groups and was overruled by Elections Canada, provoking a public clash between the head of that agency and the government [JURIST reports] of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Canadian chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand said at the time that despite government assertions to the contrary there was nothing in the then-latest legislation on voting procedures that required voters to show their faces; the new bill is intended to make that requirement clear.

Traditional Muslim face-covering garb and other religious dress [JURIST news archive] have recently become controversial in Canada as elsewhere in the West as lawmakers struggle to balance individual rights to practice religion with security concerns. CanWest has more.

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