Islam needs to reform or leave, says Canadian leader of PEGIDA movement

Islam needs to reform or leave, says Canadian leader of PEGIDA movement

PEGIDA, a controversial European movement, plans to ‘send a message’ in a rally that has been denounced in the House of Commons and the Quebec legislature.

Supporters of the PEGIDA movement demonstrate in Dresden, Germany in January.  The group has quickly gained mass appeal by demanding a more restrictive policy on Germany's acceptance of foreign refugees and asylum seekers.


Supporters of the PEGIDA movement demonstrate in Dresden, Germany in January. The group has quickly gained mass appeal by demanding a more restrictive policy on Germany’s acceptance of foreign refugees and asylum seekers.

MONTREAL—Islam needs to change or it needs to leave.

That’s the message from one of the leaders who has brought to Canada a controversial European movement that unites political conservatives, anti-immigration activists and neo-Nazis with the goal of beating back a perceived rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism.

Jean-François Asgard is one of five people to have launched PEGIDA Québec earlier this year, the latest branch of a global anti-Islam movement that was created last fall in the German town of Dresden.

PEGIDA (the name is a German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) was founded by a convicted burglar-turned-graphic designer who planned a protest against the opening of 14 refugee centres in his city. It has risen rapidly, gathering more than 20,000 people at its peak and provoking warnings and denunciations from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

That has done little to stop its global growth and there are now branches across Europe, in Australia, Britain and the United States. There is also a national PEGIDA Canada group as well as a branch in British Columbia.

“The incompatibility of Islam with the west is flagrant and that’s the reason that PEGIDA and the Western patriots are rising up. It’s not just to counter Islam but to say that if Islam doesn’t reform itself, Islam needs to get out of the west,” Asgard, 33, told the Star in the group’s first interview ahead of a controversial march planned for this weekend.

Though the group is still in its infancy it has already been denounced on the floor of the House of Commons in Ottawa and condemned by members of Quebec’s national assembly for promoting hatred and fear at an already sensitive time for Quebec’s Muslims.

“Its actions are directly targeting the Muslim community. Among its supporters, we find Christian fundamentalists and adherents of the (National Front of Canada), a movement that is clearly against immigration and ferociously anti-Islam,” wrote Québec Solidaire co-leader Françoise David in an letter published in Montreal’s Le Devoir.

A protester holds a sign at the Hendrik Conscienceplein during a protest by the Belgian branch of the German group PEGIDA earlier this month.


A protester holds a sign at the Hendrik Conscienceplein during a protest by the Belgian branch of the German group PEGIDA earlier this month.

The rally, which PEGIDA is already touting as its North American grand opening, will start on the outer edge of Montreal’s “Petit Maghreb,” home to a number of the city’s North African — largely Muslim — businesses and residents. From there, Asgard said, it will head south with a planned stop outside the Islamic centre run by Adil Charkaoui, a man formerly accused of being an Al Qaeda sleeper agent.

Charkaoui has come under scrutiny after it was revealed that a number of the seven young Quebecers who recently fled the country to join the ranks of the Islamic State had attended his Islamic dogma and Arabic-language courses.

“We intend to make a stop there (at Charkaoui’s mosque) and, with the loudspeaker, it will send a message,” Asgard said, adding that the police have already given the group a permit for the march.

A number of other groups, including one describing itself as anti-fascists, are planning a counter demonstration.

Earlier this week, former Bloc Québécois MP Maria Mourani, now an Independent who intends to represent the NDP in the next federal election, asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper to send a message that would “unequivocally urge the people of Quebec not to take part in this.”

“Although people are free to take part in demonstrations, we encourage them to abide by the rules of democracy,” replied Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney.

In a Facebook exchange with the Star another of PEGIDA Quebec’s administrators explained that the group is a reaction to last October’s back-to-back terror attacks in Ottawa and in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., as well as a perceived failure of the provincial government’s failure to crack down on Muslim fundamentalists in Quebec.

“It is all of those events as well as (Premier Philippe) Couillard protecting and consulting the fundamentalists instead of protecting us, so we must now do his job,” said the administrator of the Facebook page, who refused to provide his or her identity. None of the other organizers could be reached for comment.

Asgard said that a group of five people came together in January to start PEGIDA Quebec. For the most part, the leaders of the group were previously administrators of other Facebook pages that are critical of the Islamic faith.

Plans for Saturday’s rally began taking shape only in the last few weeks with a March 14 dinner meeting, where great attention was paid to security and secrecy. Attendees were required to provide a telephone number and personal photograph before they would be provided with details on the meeting spot.

Asgard said there have been more than 100,000 visits to the group’s Facebook page and between 300 and 400 people have shown an interest in attending the Saturday rally. He said he would be happy if even 100 showed up.

So far, the group appears to have gathered several dozen individuals ranging from sovereigntist supporters who have displayed their loyalty to the Parti Québécois, to fans of skinhead punk bands, to others whose social media profiles make reference to the Roman Catholic Crusaders of the Middle Ages.


Beware Stephen Harper’s crusade against unfamiliar clothing

A few years back I attended the annual Robbie Burns supper on Parliament Hill. The event was a welcome opportunity for all MPs to do something collegial while celebrating Scottish heritage. To make the event memorable I decided to go in full Highland dress, a kilt and all. Peter MacKay and I presented the haggis and we all enjoyed the poetry of that great Scottish bard. I learned about a culture different than my own but one inextricably linked to our wider Canadian identity. This is the Canada I know, this is the Canada I want to preserve.

The reaction to my tartan attire, which was once banned by the Dress Act of 1746 in an attempt to suppress the Scottish culture, was one of great amusement as I was, naturally, also sporting a turban. My children enjoy the pictures to this day. To me that image is also a fun encapsulation of our shared mosaic: distinct cultures coming together to create something uniquely Canadian. Yet there are those who seek to turn our differing beliefs, our choices of dress, into tools for political division.

In the early 1990s, Stephen Harper and the Reform Party were leading the charge in a campaign against a young RCMP officer who wanted to wear his turban while in uniform. Mr. Harper used inflamed rhetoric and encouraged the impression that part of Canada was being lost by changing a national symbol. At the time the Reform Party called it a “needless concession to a Canadian minority.” In my view, they seemed intent to sow an “us” versus “them” mentality.

Now, uniform-appropriate turbans and kilts are worn unremarkably by police officers and by members of the Canadian Forces. Yet, the same Stephen Harper finds himself again on a crusade against unfamiliar clothing. Mr. Harper is appealing a Federal court ruling that overturned his ban on wearing the niqab during citizenship ceremonies.

Mr. Harper and his government seem intent on whipping us into a frenzy by claiming that allowing minor exceptions for religious beliefs in public life threatens our very way of living. Members of his caucus, including Ontario’s Larry Miller, have questioned whether someone can even be Canadian while wearing a niqab. All this comes from the same government that introduced the Office for Religious Freedom. What purpose does this serve? How does this strengthen the fabric of our society?

By playing his latest edition of “What Not to Wear” Mr. Harper is attempting to leverage the unease some Canadians feel about Islam. But the message heard by Muslim women in Canada in 2015 will be the same heard by young Canadian Sikh men in the 1990s and as was heard by Scottish Highlanders back in the 18th century: there are those who do not want you here and are willing to do anything to fight the threat they perceive.

Mr. Harper’s contemporary target has shifted from observant Sikh men to Muslim women but the consequence is the same: dividing Canadians.

I believe that Canadians see the strength of our shared diversity. Individuals like the young women who took to Twitter with #DressCodePM to express their displeasure with the idea of undue restrictions on religious expression, or fashion, remind me of that.

As a father of two daughters I know the kind of Canada that I want my children to grow up in. I want them to grow in a Canada where we celebrate our differences and teach a better understanding and encourage an acceptance of other cultures. Whether you’re a Sikh in a kilt or a Muslim in a niqab, your prime minister should be building a better country, not telling you how to dress.

The Hon. Navdeep Bains is currently a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management and the Liberal candidate for the riding of Mississauga-Malton.

Most Canadians say faces shouldn’t be covered at citizenship ceremonies: poll

Global News

WATCH: In a new Global News/Ipsos Reid poll, an overwhelming majority agree with the government’s stance on the issue. Jacques Bourbeau explains.

A new Global News/Ipsos Reid poll indicates most Canadians agree with the prime minister when it comes to face coverings while taking their oath at citizenship ceremonies.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently said that wearing the niqab is “rooted in a culture that is anti-women” and that it is “offensive” for someone to keep their face shrouded during the citizenship ceremony.

The poll indicated that 88 per cent of Canadians strongly or somewhat support the “requirement that people show their faces during Canadian citizenship ceremonies.”

At the same time, 72 per cent of respondents said they strongly or somewhat agree with Harper’s comment about the niqabs and burkas being symbols of oppression.

READ MORE: Harper’s niqab comments spark #DressCodePM Twitter backlash

“What initially comes across as being…

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Most (88%) Canadians Support Requirement for People to Show Face during Canadian Citizenship Ceremonies

even in Ten (68%) Disagree that Allowing Muslim Women to wear Niqab or Burqa During Ceremony is Acceptable; Three Quarters (72%) Agree With PM that Burqa or Niqab are Symbols of Oppression and Anti-Women Culture

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Toronto, ON – Most (88%) Canadians ‘support’ (65% strongly/23% somewhat) a ‘requirement that people show their face during Canadian citizenship ceremonies’, according to a new Ipsos Reid poll conducted on behalf of Global News. Just one in ten (12%) ‘oppose’ (4% strongly/8% somewhat) such a requirement.

The Government of Canada has issued a directive requiring people to show their face when they are being sworn in as Canadian citizens. This directive means that face coverings, such as niqabs or burqas worn by some observant Muslim women, are not permitted during Canadian citizenship ceremonies.

In balancing this requirement against religious freedom in Canada, while there is less consensus on the matter, still two in three (68%) ‘disagree’ (46% strongly/22% somewhat) that ‘allowing Muslim women to wear a niqab or burqa when they are being sworn in as Canadians is acceptable because we respect religious freedom in Canada’. One in three (32%) ‘agrees’ (11% strongly/21% somewhat) that it is in fact acceptable given religious freedom in Canada.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has recently stated publically that the practice of wearing the burqa or niqab is “rooted in a culture that is anti-women”. On this point, it appears that a strong majority of Canadians agree with the Prime Minister’s views. Seven in ten (72%) ‘agree’ (36% strongly/36% somewhat) that ‘face coverings such as the burqa or niqab worn by some Muslim women are symbols of oppression and rooted in a culture that is anti-women’. On the other hand, three in ten (28%) ‘disagree’ (10% strongly/18% somewhat) with this assessment.

Government’s Position Supported by a Majority of Voters for Each Party…

The data reveal that a majority of voters for every party support the government’s position:

  • Conservative voters are most likely to support the requirement that people show their face in a citizenship ceremony (96%), but most Liberal (85%), NDP (83%) and Bloc (81%) voters also feel the same way.
  • A majority of Conservative (78%), Bloc (76%), NDP (66%) and Liberal (60%) voters disagree that allowing Muslim women to wear a niqab or burqa when they are being sworn in as Canadian citizens is acceptable.
  • Most Bloc (86%), Conservative (84%), NDP (70%) and Liberal (66%) party voters agree that face coverings such as the burqa or niqab are symbols of oppression and rooted in a culture that is anti-women.

Young Adults Least Supportive of Government’s Position…

While most appear to support the government’s position on the issue, young adults aged 18 to 34 are less enthusiastic than older Canadians, and in some cases have significantly diverging views:

  • Two in ten (20%) young adults oppose the requirement that people show their face during citizenship ceremonies, compared to only 12% of 35 to 54 year olds, and 6% of 55 year olds who oppose.
  • A majority (57%) of 18 to 34 year olds think it is acceptable for Muslim women to wear a niqab or burqa when they are being sworn in as Canadian citizens because we respect religious freedom in Canada. This compares with just 27% of 35 to 54 year olds who agree that it is acceptable, and 17% of those aged 55 and older who agree.
  • Young adults are least likely to agree (68%) that face coverings are signs of oppression and an anti-women culture compared to middle-aged (73%) and older Canadians (76%).

Regional Variation Shows Quebecers Most Likely to Agree…

The data reveal some significant variation in attitudes across the country:

  • Eight in ten (81%) Quebecers agree that the face coverings such as the niqab or burqa are symbols of oppression and rooted in a culture that is anti-women, followed by those living in British Columbia (76%), Alberta (75%), Atlantic Canada (72%), Ontario (69%) and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (48%).
  • Just 19% of Quebecers believe it’s acceptable to allow Muslim women to wear a niqab or burqa when they are being sworn in as Canadian citizens because we respect religious freedom in Canada, while those living in BC (27%), Alberta (34%), Atlantic Canada (34%), Ontario (39%), and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (43%) are more likely to believe it is acceptable.
  • Quebecers (91%), Albertans (90%) and Atlantic Canadians (90%) are most likely to support a requirement that people show their face during citizenship ceremonies, followed by those in BC (87%), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (87%) and Ontario (85%).

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos Reid poll conducted between March 16 and March 19, 2015, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a sample of 1,004 Canadians from Ipsos’ online panel was interviewed online. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within +/ – 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

For more information on this news release, please contact:

Sean Simpson
Vice President
Ipsos Reid
Public Affairs
(416) 572-4474

About Ipsos Reid

Ipsos Reid is Canada’s market intelligence leader, the country’s leading provider of public opinion research, and research partner for loyalty and forecasting and modelling insights. With operations in eight cities, Ipsos Reid employs more than 600 research professionals and support staff in Canada. The company has the biggest network of telephone call centres in the country, as well as the largest pre-recruited household and online panels. Ipsos Reid’s marketing research and public affairs practices offer the premier suite of research vehicles in Canada, all of which provide clients with actionable and relevant information. Staffed with seasoned research consultants with extensive industry-specific backgrounds, Ipsos Reid offers syndicated information or custom solutions across key sectors of the Canadian economy, including consumer packaged goods, financial services, automotive, retail, and technology & telecommunications. Ipsos Reid is an Ipsos company, a leading global survey-based market research group.

To learn more, please visit

About Ipsos

Ipsos is an independent market research company controlled and managed by research professionals. Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos has grown into a worldwide research group with a strong presence in all key markets. Ipsos ranks third in the global research industry.

Ipsos has been listed on the Paris Stock Exchange since 1999 and generated global revenues of €1,669.5 ($2,218.4 million) in 2014.

With offices in 87 countries, Ipsos delivers insightful expertise across five research specializations: brand, advertising and media, customer loyalty, marketing, public affairs research, and survey management.

Ipsos researchers assess market potential and interpret market trends. They develop and build brands. They help clients build long-term relationships with their customers. They test advertising and study audience responses to various media and they measure public opinion around the globe.

Visit to learn more about Ipsos’ offerings and capabilities.

Far-right politicians from across Europe join Russian nationalists to back Putin

Putin’s many critics pointed to the irony of St. Petersburg, his hometown, welcoming neo-Nazis as Russia prepares to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

Members of the neo-Nazi Greek party Golden Dawn were at the event in support of Putin.


Members of the neo-Nazi Greek party Golden Dawn were at the event in support of Putin.

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA—Nationalist supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin brought together controversial far-right politicians from across Europe on Sunday in an effort to demonstrate international support for Russia and weaken European Union commitment to sanctions imposed on Russia over its role in Ukraine.

Putin’s many critics pointed to the irony of St. Petersburg, his hometown, welcoming neo-Nazis as Russia prepares to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

Nick Griffin, the expelled former leader of the anti-immigrant British National Party, accused the United States of aggravating the confrontation in Ukraine, where more than 6,000 people have been killed in fighting between government troops and Russia-backed separatists.

“The people running the U.S. and their puppets in the European Union are doing everything they can, whether deliberately or just by stupidity, to drag us into a terrible war,” Griffin said.

He spoke out against the EU sanctions, as did Udo Voigt, a senior figure in Germany’s neo-Nazi fringe National Democratic Party, who was among several members of the European Parliament who attended the St. Petersburg gathering. Griffin lost his seat in the EU body last year.

Among the approximately 200 participants were Roberto Fiore, leader of Italy’s far-right party Forza Nuova, and members of the neo-Nazi Greek party Golden Dawn.

Russian participants included Alexei Zhuravlev, a member of Russia’s parliament, and Cossacks. Many Cossacks, descendants of the czarist-era horsemen who defended Russia’s borders, have fought alongside the separatists in eastern Ukraine.

iqabs and a hijab: 3 Muslim women talk about the face covering

Thursday March 19, 2015 2

Amid a national debate that’s filled the Twittersphere and the public square, the voices of Muslim women are often under-represented in the conversation. We hear from a panel of women who wear the niqab — or used to.

niqab panel

Shomyla Hammad, Khadra Ali and Anna Maria in our studio in Toronto.

Ever since Prime Minister Stephen Harper made his remarks in the House of Commons last week, the niqab has found itself at the centre of a national debate. Unlike the hijab, which covers a woman’s hair, the niqab covers the entire face of the women who wear it — revealing only their eyes.

Last month, a federal court judge ruled that Zunera Ishaq, a Canadian permanent resident, could indeed wear the niqab during her citizenship ceremony, in spite of a 2011 policy against the practice put forward by the Conservative government. But Stephen Harper is adamant — and has vowed to appeal the decision.

It has become a hot button issue, with passionate arguments from both sides, and a sarcastic uprising on Twitter, questioning the Prime Minister’s place in dictating dress codes.

We invited three women to share their thoughts:

Shomyla Hammad is from Mississauga, Ontario and wears the niqab.

Khadra Ali wore the niqab for a year, before deciding to take it off.

Rezan Mosa is a student at Western University who wears the niqab.

This segment was produced by The Current’s Pacinthe Mattar and intern Samira Mohyeddin.

GERALD CAPLAN I used to dislike the niqab. Harper showed me how wrong I was

Gerald Caplan is an African scholar, former NDP national director and a regular panelist on CBC’s Power and Politics.

The first time I saw a woman wear a niqab was many years ago when I was driving through rural northern Nigeria. She was completely enveloped from head to toe in heavy black clothing. Only a thin slit for her eyes were visible. This was, I learned, a burka, an extreme form of the niqab, and I still recall all these years later how revolted I was by the sight of a woman who, it seemed to me, was wearing her own solitary confinement. Until now, no one had ever persuaded me that any woman would freely chose to disappear into that suffocating prisoner’s uniform.


Whether burka or niqab, I’ve never failed since to recoil when I’ve seen a woman wearing either. In Canada, to be sure, it’s an extremely rare sighting, but I’ve continued to believe that no woman would ever shroud herself like that by her own volition.

Thanks to the singular cruelty and political opportunism of our prime minister, I’ve just learned that I was spectacularly wrong.

Out of 35 million people in Canada, Stephen Harper has chosen to single out for verbal abuse one lone, niqab-wearing Mississauga woman, Zunera Ishaq. Her only offence is choosing to wear her niqab at her Canadian citizenship swearing-in ceremony, as is her legal right. The Prime Minister has spoken of her often, but never to her.

What he has done – this great authority on the Muslim religion – is to slander an entire “culture” as “anti-woman.” What he’s done is to unleash his caucus to join the piling-on of this one woman – “stay the hell where you came from” – even if they then pretend to apologize. She is defenseless; he bullies her from his privileged place in the House of Commons while his mindless minions stand and cheer. The court ruling that there’s no law prohibiting her from wearing her niqab at a the citizenship ceremony is unambiguous; Mr. Harper is challenging it. Jason Kenney has been exposed for peddling misleading photos of women in niqabs; he has not apologized. And all of this scapegoating, this character assassination of one woman, is being done for the crassest of political purposes.

Here’s the silver lining, though. Some media have finally decided to introduce real, live niqabis to their audiences. And what a remarkable group they’ve proved to be.

In the past few days I’ve met through media five Muslim women, four of whom are veiled. Anna Maria Tremonti, host of CBC’s The Current, interviewed two women who wear the niqab and one who no longer does. The Toronto Star carried an article by Zunera Ishaq herself. And The Tyee posted an open letter to Mr. Harper by another woman wearing a niqab, Aysha Luqman-Pandor from Pickering, Ont.

These glimpses are revelatory. They destroy every single assumption I made, in my ignorance, about niqabis. I strongly urge everyone to check out these sources for themselves. Given the government’s hysterical fear-mongering, we all owe it to ourselves to know these women better. We can safely assume that no member of the government ever has done so, or how could Jason Kenney, another renowned authority on Islam, dare say that face coverings are a “pre-medieval” tradition “that has been imposed on some women.”

In real life, you’ll find here no sign of a woman who’s being submissive or who has been oppressed. On the contrary, you’ll find five women all of whom are thoughtful, independent and articulate to the point of eloquence.

Here’s what else they have in common.

  • They all are or intend to be Canadians – proud Canadians.
  • They all take their religion very seriously.
  • They all chose by themselves to wear the niqab, even when a husband or father tried to dissuade them.
  • Those who wear it say the niqab brings them closer to their religion and their god.
  • All readily remove their niqab when required for practical or official purposes.
  • Every one of them insists she never encountered any trouble when wearing their niqab–until the prime minister of Canada chose, out of the blue, to make trouble for them all.

Here’s from the unintimidated Zunera Ishaq:

“I am not looking for Mr. Harper to approve my life choices or dress… “To me, the most important Canadian value is the freedom to be the person of my own choosing. To me, that’s more indicative of what it means to be Canadian than what I wear.”

And from Aysha Luqman-Pandor in Pickering:

“I’m not here to state a ruling on whether the veil is mandatory in my faith or not, I’m here simply to say it is mandatory for me, and I choose to observe it…”

“I am fortunate that I was born into this great land. I am free to learn, to practice what I learn and to teach it to others.”

These women all understand the best of Canadian values even as the PM shamelessly distorts and undermines them. They also understand why they’re suddenly in the limelight. As one of the CBC panelists put it: Stephen Harper “is just playing politics with this.”

The politics of the lowest road possible.