Zunera Ishaq describes her choice to wear a veil in public as a “trivial and minor issue”.
But for 35 million Canadians, this woman’s stubborn insistence on her right to conceal her face has become a central issue in the ongoing election campaign, giving a late boost to a Conservative government that had previously seemed doomed to defeat.
A 29-year-old mother and teacher who was accepted as an immigrant to Canada in 2008, Ishaq first came to attention when she went to court to challenge a new government regulation that sought to prevent Muslim women from covering their faces during their citizenship ceremony.
She won handily, and won again early this month when a second court rejected the Harper government’s appeal against the earlier decision.
But with every victory for Ishaq, the government opposing her becomes more popular. After announcing this month that it would go to the supreme court of Canada to appeal its second defeat, the Conservatives moved from third to first place in polls tracking opinion prior to the October election.
“This is not an issue, by the way,” Ishaq told the Guardian. “This is a trivial thing,” she said, echoing the view of many Canadians. “This is not the business of the state.”
The Canadian department of citizenship and immigration would seem to concur, noting that only two women since 2011 have declined the ceremony because of the ban.