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Toronto’s 50 Most Influential: #31, Zunera Ishaq

Our annual ranking of the people whose smarts, connections and clout are changing the city as we know it

Toronto's 50 Most Influential: #31, Zunera Ishaq
(Image: Ishaq, Harper by Getty Images)

Zunera Ishaq

Reluctant Activist

31 No one predicted a shy immigrant would end up altering the course of the 2015 federal election. Harper, hoping to energize a xenophobic swath of the electorate, challenged Ishaq’s right to wear the niqab during her oath of citizenship ceremony. Ishaq, a mother of four with a master’s in English lit and no particular desire for attention, might have caved. But she had chosen to wear the niqab as a girl in Pakistan and saw no logical reason to stop here. Harper doubled down, promising a “barbaric cultural practices” tip line. Ten days before election day, Ishaq recited her oath wearing whatever she felt like that day (it just happened to be a white and pink floral niqab). Now Harper’s out, Trudeau is in, and Ishaq is Canadian. Her life has returned to some degree of normalcy, but her impact endures.

Fun Fact:

Ishaq was an English literature lecturer for a year in Pakistan.

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