The Canadian election is merely nine days away, and the campaign has now descended into a phase much like The Dark Ages. During the last two weeks of this eleven-week battle of attrition, the mainstream media’s fickle attention span has somehow remained fixated primarily on the minuscule niqab fray, instead of devoting top coverage to the many real and substantial issues facing our dear nation. It is curious why the mainstream media has suddenly found such concerted concentration on what it deems to be such a minor issue–and it’s worth spending the time unveiling.
Appropriately enough, the niqab fray began to unravel in Quebec, where secularism and self-identity are cherished, and where provincial legislation bans the niqab from the public sector. Right after the French-language leaders’ debate, in which the niqab was briefly touched upon, the Laurentian elites of Toronto belaboured the issue in the decrepit CBC headquarters.
Andrew Coyne, a top National Post editor, was repulsed by the time allotted to the niqab non-issue during the debate: “To take one of these very few opportunities these leaders have and to spend such a proportion of that time to ask this question if whether a few dozen women should have to wear a veil, or not wear a veil in a citizenship ceremony, or whether they should do it in a private room beforehand–it’s ridiculous!”
Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star columnist and familial Quebecer who’s far more familiar with the subject matter, challenged Coyne’s reasoning for his risible indignation: “Actually support for a niqab ban in Canada, according to polls done for the federal government runs over 75 per cent. So it’s not just a Quebec issue. Now, nobody is stopping–”
“It’s not an issue that is germane to this country. It is trivial in the grand scheme of things,” rebutted Coyne.
“It is an issue that is of interest to the voters of this province and to most of the Canadians that have answered that question … An election is about more than whatever is set in the editorial boardroom’s of Toronto as [to] what matters to the country.”
“Of course. But it’s also more than who can pander to the lowest common denominator on these issues. To frame–to frame what? A third of the debate around this is ridiculous.”
“No, five minutes. Maybe the translation took longer. But five minutes out of the entire debate was on the niqab issue. I know it sounded very long, but it was five minutes,” concluded Hebert decisively.
Whatever the exact amount of time given to the niqab issue during that debate of yester-month, it’s undeniable that the exorbitant time and space Coyne and other editors of news organizations have “framed” and devoted to the niqab feud–all in the last fortnight–is truly ridiculous.
Coyne’s National Post, The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star each published over 60 online articles about or referencing the niqab issue in October alone. Both the CBC–never one to miss an opportunity to squander the public’s time and dime–and CTV gave the niqab issue endless coverage.
The general consensus of the microcosmic news boardrooms in Toronto was that Harper was playing despicable dog-whistle politics geared towards appealing to a xenophobic subgroup. There may be some truth to this conjecture, especially since shortly after the niqab fray broke out the Conservatives fanned the flames by reminding voters of their “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act” and adding a proposed RCMP tip line for reporting said practices. But the Conservatives actions don’t negate the fact that the media has chosen to obsess over this tempest in a teacup. What’s most intriguing is how diametrically opposed the Canadian press’s editorial stance is to the Canadian zeitgeist.
Earlier this year was the first time the curtains were drawn wide open and the national spotlight first shone on the niqab, when in mid-March Harper declared the niqab a symbol of anti-women culture. I wrote an article on the article of clothing entitled “CBC’s Impudent Prettification of the Niqab”, in which I undressed the CBC and other Canadian media outlets shameless whitewashing of the patriarchal garb. At this time it was discovered by the media, after they’d snapped at Harper’s dog-whistle–or perhaps obeyed Pavlov’s bell–that 67 per cent of Canadians agreed with Harper’s citizenship ceremony ban.
Of course the other reason the niqab issue overshadows all else right now is the new Canadian citizen Zunera Ishaq. The poor martyr or ungrateful miscreant, depending on your point of view, just became a Canadian citizen today. At the beautiful ceremony or the heist of Canadian secular values, Ishaq swore allegiance to the Queen niqab-clad because the Federal Court of Canada struck down the Conservative’s niqab ban last February.
The CBC, obviously in the pro-niqab camp, interviewed Ishaq right after the ceremony.
“For me it is very strange that how can a personal choice matter become for the people to decide … it is a little sad as well as a little disappointing for me as well that this personal choice of mine has nothing to do with anyone and it is a personal matter, which has been taken to this political game, which is not–I don’t feel this is logical, sensible, as well as I feel that this is not respectable way to a person who has tried to make her choice.”
According to an audacious Ishaq it is none of our business what others wear at a government ceremony in our country.
The anchor interviewing her, Andrew Nichols, revealed just how over-accommodating we Canadians can be: “You wanted a small, from what I understand, the ceremony was small. They closed the building for you. You were kind enough to invite the CBC, Susan Ormiston was there, why did you want it to be a small ceremony?”
The demanding Ishaq then revealed she felt her life would be in danger at a larger ceremony.
At the very least, Ishaq’s story is going to keep the niqab fray front and center a few more days of this winding down campaign.
What’s astounding about the recent media hysteria is the instinctual reaction of Canada’s media watchdogs to Harper’s Pavlovian bell. Despite anti-niqab sentiments recently increasing to nearly 80 per cent, the Canadian media still ignores the general public’s view on the issue.
So why would an anti-Harper media press continue to harp on a losing issue? First and foremost, the press dishonestly assert it is Harper’s agenda to keep pushing divisive and trivial issues like the niqab to cloak the many failings of his record. Yet, recent job numbers, along with a growing economy and the fortuitous signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal all bode well for Harper’s re-election. Maybe the media’s claim that Harper is desperate to distract and detract Canadians from other issues really only applies to themselves. And the media–the PC police–also wants to use its own dog-whistle to further brand the CPC as racist bigots focused on fomenting fear and hatred.
Whatever the motives may be of the press, they’re undoubtedly filled with a fear of Harper being re-elected. The recent poll numbers do not indicate the niqab issue is hurting the CPC, and why would it when four-fifths of the public support the niqab ban? (Ironically the beginning of the niqab fray was devastating for NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair whom had to clarify at the debate his previously conflicting English and French answers on the niqab issue. His pro-niqab pronouncement was seen by Quebecers as a flip-flopping betrayal, and he paid a heavy defrayal. Mulcair’s loss was Harper’s gain as the Conservatives have surged in La Belle Province.) The only way it could perhaps hurt the CPC is if the public grows weary of the niqab issue’s undeserved prominent coverage and blame Harper as the main culprit for its prevalence, instead of rightly blaming the gatekeepers of editorial boardrooms in Toronto.
It would indeed be shameful if the Canadian mainstream media continues to dim and strangle its campaign coverage and dialogue with the niqab issue over the final days. But let’s face it, the mainstream media can’t pull the wool over our eyes. Ultimately they will not dictate the infinitely superior reasons why Canadians will cast their ballots on October 19.