Canada’s ruling Conservatives have pledged to set up a police hotline to report what it called “barbaric cultural practices”, as it sought to capitalize on a hardline stance which has helped it gain in the polls.
The new pledge follows a string of opinion polls showing that the incumbent party’s hard line against Muslim headwear – refusing to permit a new immigrant the right to wear a veil during a ceremony affirming their citizenship – has helped lift it from third to first place in the drawn-out election campaign.
“We need to stand up for our values,” said immigration minister Chris Alexander, as he announced the new initiative on Friday. “We need to do that in citizenship ceremonies. We need to do that to protect women and girls from forced marriage and other barbaric practices.”
The heightened rhetoric over “Canadian values” coincides with a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes. Montreal police are investigating an incident in which a gang of teenaged boys attacked a pregnant woman in the city’s north end and knocked her down while attempting to remove her head covering.
The attack is one of several incidences of anti-Muslim harassment that are reported to have occurred in Quebec, where the issue of “reasonable accommodation” of ethnic and religious minorities is especially charged.
In addition to encouraging Canadians to report “barbaric cultural practices”, the Conservatives re-affirmed their determination to cancel the citizenship of convicted terrorists, even those born in Canada.
Although widely supported by voters responding to polls, the Conservative’s aggressive attack against a minority culture has drawn strong condemnation from opposition politicians and others. On Thursday, the Quebec provincial legislature adopted a motion condemning Islamophobia. Further west, the popular mayor of Calgary, Muslim immigrant Naheed Nenshi, attacked the Conservative initiatives as “unbelievably dangerous.”
“This is disgusting and we have to stop it,” said Nenshi.
In return, Conservative defence minister Jason Kenney accused Nenshi “and people like him” of politicizing the niqab issue.
The most recent results of national polls show the Conservatives have broken free of the three-way deadlock that characterized the first half of the race and now enjoy a clear lead.
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