The federal government has lost its appeal of a lower court ruling that struck down a ban on wearing niqabs at citizenship ceremonies. 

Three justices on the Federal Court of Appeal, in a ruling from the bench, said they wanted to rule now so the woman at the centre of the case could take her citizenship oath and vote in the federal election on Oct. 19.

The case started with a lawsuit from Zunera Ishaq, a devout Muslim who moved to Ontario from Pakistan in 2008 to join her husband. Ishaq agreed to remove her niqab for an official before writing and passing her citizenship test two years ago, but she objects to unveiling in public at the oath-taking ceremony. 

In the Federal Court ruling, Judge Keith Boswell said the government policy, introduced in 2011, violates the Citizenship Act, which states citizenship judges must allow the greatest possible religious freedom when administering the oath.

Boswell asked how that would be possible, "if the policy requires candidates to violate or renounce a basic tenet of their religion."

On Tuesday, Justice Department lawyer Peter Southey argued unsuccessfully that the lower court justice made errors in his original decision to overturn the ban.

Appeal Justice Mary Gleason said the court saw no reason to interfere with the earlier ruling.

The ban on face coverings sparked a bitter debate in the House of Commons when it was first announced. At the time, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said his government's ban reflected the views of the "overwhelming majority" of Canadians, including moderate Muslims.

With files from The Canadian Press

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