Harper's culture war a threat to minority rights

Harper's culture war a threat to minority rights
Posted on October 7, 2015 | James Anderson | Written on October 7, 2015
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Some will recall that, as Justice Minister in 1967, Pierre Trudeau acted to decriminalize homosexual acts between consenting adults. During the debate on the bill he asserted that the state had no business in the bedrooms of the nation. It is worth noting that it took several decades before public attitudes evolved to a point of reasonable tolerance and at least diminished levels of discrimination against homosexuals. (Indeed, that battle is far from over, as just this week we have seen a Conservative candidate raise the notion of training homosexuals out of their abnormal habit.) Back in 1967, Pierre Trudeau showed real leadership on an important issue and did not let the less-tolerant attitudes of the day dissuade him from doing what he thought was right.

Flash forward to today and we see a striking contrast. Showing no qualms about intruding on the wardrobes of our nation, our current prime minister first decreed that niqabs should not be worn in citizenship ceremonies. Now he suggests that the ban could be extended further, into the public service. Though courts have ruled against his government's move, the prime minister takes the easy route, citing public opinion as evidence that his position is sound.

What's my point? Minority rights are most in need of protection when a majority tries to impose its will. Leadership is most evident - and most impressive - when a leader uses intellect and powers of persuasion to convince a skeptical public to embrace a different way of thinking.

Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair deserve credit for defending the rights of those few women who have dared to assert their right to wear their niqabs at citizenship ceremonies. In arguing for more tolerance and in trying to counter the fear-mongering, these two leaders took the more challenging political route, by far. In showing they won't cut and run when public opinion is against them on an issue they believe in, Trudeau and Mulcair showed that they are the type of leader you'd be best off with when your rights might be at risk of being trampled by a majority.

Even if you find niqabs off-putting, that's something worth thinking about.

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