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Kenney lies to escape his racist record

John Bell

June 18, 2021

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is a liar.

At a recent press conference he denied his role, as former Immigration and Citizenship Minister in Stephen Harper’s government, in trying to institute a ban on wearing the niqab during citizenship ceremonies.

“I've never supported a proposed ban. To the contrary, I've always said that Canada is a country that protects and respects religious freedom and pluralism, and the government has no business regulating what people wear unlike in certain European and Middle Eastern countries that do have bans on face coverings.”

He reiterated: “That has never been proposed. I've always opposed that.”

Perhaps Kenney hasn’t heard about this new invention, the Google machine. You don’t have to be a sleuth to uncover a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

In 2011, under Kenney’s leadership, the niqab was banned at citizenship ceremonies. According to a CBC report at the time, “It's a ‘public declaration that you are joining the Canadian family and it must be taken freely and openly,’ [Kenney] said, calling it ‘frankly, bizarre’ that women were allowed to wear face veils while they swear their citizenship oaths.” 

Under criticism at the time arguing that he was stoking Islamophobia, Kenney doubled down. On twitter he declared: “I believe people taking the public Oath of Citizenship should do so publicly, w/ their faces uncovered. Do you agree?” 

The ban was in place until 2015, when it was declared unconstitutional by the courts. By then Kenney had been promoted to Defence Minister, and still defended the racist exclusion: "Today's ruling not only goes against the democratic will of Canadians, but against long-held Canadian values of openness and the equality of women and men."

(Interesting aside: the spokesperson for Stephen Harper’s office at the time, arguing for the ban and threatening to waste more taxpayers’ dollars on court appeals, was none other than Stephen Lecce, now an Ontario MPP and Doug Ford’s Education Minister.)

There has been a long line of politicians, mostly Tories, scrambling to apologize for their racist, Islamophobic records, ever since the terrorist murder of the Azfaal family in London, Ontario. Many of the politicians lining up to speak at vigils for the victims, and decrying Islamophobia were simply hypocrites. They are part of the state apparatus that has been using Islamophobia as a divide-and-rule tactic for two decades. 

Even far-right figures, like Michelle Rempel, have issued apologies for past statements, out of political expedience if not genuine enlightenment. But not Kenney. Maybe he would rather be known as a liar than an opportunist.

June 16 was the second anniversary of Quebec's Islamophobic Law 21 against religious symbols in positions of "authority", which specifically targets Mulsim women who wear the Hijab. Following the Islamophiobic attack in London, Trudeau was asked by journalists whether he thought Law 21 promoted hate and discrimination. Pointedly, no one asked him to explain the Maher Arar incident, the persecution of Omar Khadr, the denial of legal rights to the Secret Trial 5, and other attacks on Muslims by his own party.

Kenny’s false apology gives the lie to the idea that we can blame Quebec as the source of Islamophobia.

When it comes to Islamophobia, the buck stops squarely at the feet of the whole Canadian state.  


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