Canadian legislation would ban veiled voting

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OTTAWA, Oct 26 (Reuters) Muslim women in niqabs or burqas will no longer be allowed to stay veiled when voting in Canada, under government legislation introduced today.

The bill seeks to force the hand of Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, who rebuffed a request by a parliamentary committee that he require the lifting of veils to prove voters' identities. He had insisted the existing law did not require this.

The new legislation would allow an exception only for someone whose face is bandaged after surgery or covered for other medical reasons.

The issue has become a hot potato especially in the province of Quebec, which is debating how far to accommodate minorities, and where the provincial electoral officer reversed course last March and required the unveiling of voters.

During a campaign for three federal seats in Quebec last month, all four federal parties said faces must be uncovered, but opposition Liberal Deputy Leader Michael Ignatieff was cool toward the bill in remarks today.

''What I don't like, and object to, is the ways in which certain politicians are stirring this up,'' he told reporters outside the House of Commons.

He said the Liberals were committed to achieving a balance between religious freedom and civic duty, and that a decent society ''would work out a pragmatic solution that keeps everybody happy.'' The rival opposition party Bloc Quebecois, which had earlier introduced a bill similar to the Conservative government's, dismissed Ignatieff's criticism.

''I don't think anybody wants to play small politics with that. I think that we have to work to make sure that everybody is equal and that we will cooperate with the government if it's good for the electors,'' Bloc Member of Parliament Monique Guay said.

Conservative Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon, one of the cabinet members who introduced today's legislation, said that during last month's elections to fill vacant seats in Quebec some had shown up in masks to protest the whole situation.

''What we're trying to do here is keep and make sure there is electoral integrity in the process,'' Cannon said.

REUTERS SZ PM0025

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