The document that purports to confirm that Canadians are upset about the wearing of the niqab during citizenship ceremonies is a fraudulent exercise in manipulation.

If they knew what’s actually in it, Canadians would be shocked at the deliberate and glaringly obvious bias built into this so-called “survey”.

While some Canadian election-watchers note that apparent support for removing the niqab during citizenship ceremonies is helping Stephen Harper, commentators in other countries suggest that it is ruining Canada’s international reputation for fairness and tolerance.

Stephen Harper’s 'niqab game' is a masterstroke of carefully crafted propaganda. It is deliberately encouraging prejudice and possibly hate crimes, all in an increasingly desperate attempt to retain political power.

The document was prepared at the end of March of this year, seven weeks after the court decision that allowed Zunera Ishaq to wear her niqab, but its release was delayed till the last week of the federal election campaign.

Oddly, back in March, Treasury Board President Tony Clement felt there was no problem with niqabs in association with government activities.

Although the so-called “research” was done by a legitimate polling agency, Leger, the material comes directly from the Privy Council Office, which is tightly controlled by the Conservative government through the absolute powers endowed, by four decades of custom and rulings, upon the Prime Minister’s Office.

It clearly reveals the hand of the Conservative propaganda team, these days led by the Prime Minister’s Aussie advisor, Lynton “Dead Cat” Crosby.

How this 'study' is really an exercise in propaganda

This charade has been reported by the Conservative campaign team to reveal that Canadians are concerned about women wearing the niqab at the Canadian citizenship ceremony.

It actually does nothing of the sort.

The devious process for extracting this one minuscule opinion about wearing the niqab at citizenship ceremonies comes in two lengthy and carefully constructed parts. The first part is a series of focus groups and the second is a telephone questionnaire. Both are characterized by bias and a very deliberate shaping of answers.

When you look at the order of questions in discussion involved in the focus group, it becomes clear what has been done.

In essence, participants have been deliberately led by the nose through a thicket of issues that start out in general and open-ended terms, but focus increasingly on violence, especially involving Muslims, such as bombing in Iraq and ISIS.

It finally culminates in the question – the very last question, presented in “yes or no” terms – about wearing niqabs at swearing in ceremonies for Canadian citizens.

Take a group of people who think they're doing their civic duty, put them in a room and belabour them for an hour and a half with questions about one thing and another, gradually working your way towards issues of violence, security and Islamist extremists, and then, at the very last minute, prompt them with the niqab question, and what will you get?

You get a lot of tired people, their minds progressively suffused with images of violence and their emotions steadily aroused against enemies, especially an Islamist enemies – people who, at this point, will probably say anything just to get out of the room and go home.

The telephone survey follows the same basic pattern: after asking a few open-ended, general inquiries, the interviewer moves steadily through questions on the economy and the price of oil to a focus in on violence, security and Islamist extremists, and then spring the niqab question.

The answer, in both cases, is more or less a foregone conclusion.

What this document actually shows is that Canadian voters are thinking about other things

What Stephen Harper doesn’t tell you is that, when given open-ended questions at the beginning of the telephone survey, there is no mention of the niqab issue whatsoever.

When asked “Thinking of the issues facing Canada today, which one would you say the Government of Canada should focus on most?” the niqab issue is not mentioned at all. The interviewer then prompts participants once again: “Are there any others?” Once again, the niqab issue is completely absent.

In question after question, throughout the entire focus group process and the entire telephone interview, participants say nothing about the niqab issue. When offered an opportunity to say what they care about, participants are focused primarily on the economy, the health care system, the environment and employment. When asked if there are other issues that concern them, the same issues come up again, augmented by concerns about education and social issues like poverty and affordable housing.

In fact, they’re concerned about the very issues that the three “progressive” parties have been talking about throughout the election, none of whom have stooped to politically motivated fear-mongering.

Participants in this Conservative exercise say nothing about the niqab even when asked questions about Canada joining the fight against ISIS. Any concern about this garment is absent from consideration, until participants are asked about it, directly, at the very end, whether they support niqabs and burkas at citizenship ceremonies.

Why this is study is completely unreliable

If this so-called study was subjected to standard scientific or academic scrutiny, it would be ripped to shreds.

It would be harshly criticized for asking obviously leading questions, carefully directing the thought processes and mental state of participants, and frank bias. It wouldn’t make it past any reputable screening body or ethics committee.

I have been a medical practitioner for 35 years. I read scientific studies on an almost daily basis, and have done 50 hours of continuing medical education every year for those three and a half decades. I have learned, from experts in the field, to distinguish between realistic evidence and clever propaganda, because the medical literature contains many “studies” from the drug industry, most of which are trying to sell me on prescribing their product.

I have been compelled, as have my thousands of colleagues, to learn how to tell the few good studies from the many bad ones.

Stephen Harper’s use of the study as a political weapon is fundamentally duplicitous.

The same-old same-old

I guess we shouldn't really be surprised. We have come to expect that Stephen Harper will do and say anything to try and create an impression that will benefit his cause, no matter how divisive, unrealistic, and downright manipulative his language and approach might be.

The “Fair Elections Act” makes it more difficult for most Canadians to vote.

The “Anti-Terrorism Act” assaults our civil liberties by unnecessarily increasing the country’s already-effective protections against terrorism.

The “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act” weakens the protection that Canadian citizens have if they were born in another country.

And on and on it goes.

I suspect that an honest survey would show completely different results from this politically motivated Conservative propaganda exercise, an exercise that reveals, more clearly than any signpost, the unseemly influence of the Prime Minister’s Office on the machinery of government.

I suspect that an independent study, freed from political bias and the structure that reinforces it, would show that the overwhelming majority of Canadians are fair, generous, accepting of diversity, and tolerant of individual cultural and religious customs. It would show that they don’t give two hoots about what kind of clothing new Canadian citizens wear as long as it’s not hateful or obscene.

In order to win this election, Stephen Harper has single-handedly, by this and so many other diabolically massaged messages, dragged Canadian political discourse down into a cesspit of half-truths, untruths and deception.

It’s time for a change. Please vote on October 19.

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