As a multi-cultural society, Canada by definition must embrace attitudes and beliefs that are difficult to integrate into public society and/or held by a minority of the population. Our nation's laws and services are beholden to no particular belief system, and when religious doctrine runs counter to those policies every effort should be made to accommodate. However, if such accommodation is not possible, it is the dogma which must give way, and the Islamic custom of the niqab - which covers all of a woman's face but for her eyes - is no exception. My position is not that Canadian (or any) women should be denied the right to dress as they see fit, whether or not their motivation is religious, but that this right must concede to particular circumstances in which public safety and/or reasonable right to identification are factors.
First, I would point out that within Islam itself, the niqab is not essential, but customary. Only a small minority of Muslims hold to the belief that covering the face is 'fard', meaning obligatory (Akou, 1). Sheikh Mohammed Tantawi, regarded as Egypt's Imam and Sunni Islam's foremost spiritual authority, said, "The niqab is a tradition, it has no connection with religion." (The Telegraph.) In 2009, the Muslim Canadian Congress called for a ban on burqa and niqab (but not the hijab, or headscarf), saying that they have "no basis in Islam". Spokesperson Farzana Hassan, for a piece in the Globe & Mail, said that "To cover your face is to conceal your identity," and that public safety was a concern, since "...concealing one's identity is a common practice for criminals". She also offered that the practice was more part of Middle Eastern culture than the Islamic faith. If those who hold a stance opposite to mine counter with "a citizen has the right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of religion", then the fact that the faith in question does not actually mandate the niqab must be considered. Custom and personal choice should be accommodated when possible, but cannot circumvent reasonable practices.
Also to be considered is that, even in Muslim countries, veiled women who are confronted with legitimate restrictions in the name of security have, for the most part, not objected. They remove their veils at airports or when crossing borders in the presence of female staff (Bakht). When so many of the faithful within a religious system have no issue with making these exceptions, it becomes more difficult to make the case for individual exclusion.
A counter to this argument is provided by Natasha Bakht in "Veiled Objections:
Facing Public Opposition to the Niqab". She writes that Canada's Supreme Court has established that"... an individual’s sincere conviction is given predominance over even the normative religious ...belief purported by religious authorities or the religious community..." This is a strong objection, springing from the nation's highest court. However, it is nebulous, with the troublesome...