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dear-editor-typewriter-fullDear Editor:

Once in a while an event occurs that reveals the political character of a society; our MP Larry Miller's recent comments on the niqab are a case in point. In an interview on CFOS, Miller said: "I'm so sick and tired of people wanting to come here because they know it's a good country and then they want to change things before they even really officially become a Canadian... Like, frankly, if you're not willing to show your face in a ceremony that you're joining the best country ... if you don't like that or don't want to do that, stay the hell where you came from."
Miller's comments carry several racist assumptions that require unpacking. First, does Miller seriously think that a drive to 'change things' is entirely new within Canadian society? Miller ought to consider the place that his neck-tie, cowboy hat, or blue jeans, have in the history of this country. Reaching out to Chiefs Chegahno or Roote and asking them just how much settlers have changed the country would be a good place to start. Miller ignores the fact that Canada exists solely as a result of people coming here from elsewhere and changing what they found upon arrival. It is laughable at best, and colonial at worst, for someone as deeply embedded in the Canadian settler-colonial project as Miller to decry the way others comport themselves.

Second, is Miller seriously suggesting that Canadian identity is so utterly fragile that it is threatened by the manner in which people dress and, if that is the case, is it only the dress of Muslims that he finds threatening? The niqab poses no more threat to 'Canadian identity' than does a cross, a yamaka, or a simple baseball cap. The idea that the niqab is in some way radically different from any of these acceptably benign articles relies on racist—and misogynistic— stereotypes that bear little resemblance to the communities that Miller targets.

Finally, I'd like to close by saying that Miller's "retraction" of comments that went beyond the official party position is totally disingenuous. The Conservatives' position on this matter is nothing more than a polished gloss on the very sentiments that Miller articulated in his diatribe. Stephen Harper's own statements on this matter have taken up the line that the niqab is rooted in a "culture that is anti-women". This position reproduces the paternalistic, colonial, and misogynistic assumption that women do not have the personal agency with which to decide whether or not they wear a niqab. Rather than assume the helplessness and docility of niqab wearers, the Conservatives might consider addressing them in a manner that respects their ability to choose—even if that choice is something Conservatives might dislike.
There is an election this fall. Rather than buy into Miller's petty politics of racism, let's all in Grey and Bruce push for a politics that is positive and productive: let's push Miller from the office he so clearly doesn't deserve.


Best Wishes

Phil Henderson





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