Canada’s main opposition leader has savaged the Prime Minister for his stance on Islam – comparing him to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Conservative PM Stephen Harper reaffirmed his stance on Islam this week, calling for wearing a niqab or other face covering to be banned during official ceremonies.

He claimed that the veils were “rooted in a culture that is anti-women”, adding: “almost all Canadians oppose the wearing of face coverings during citizenship ceremonies”.

However, opposition leader Thomas Mulcair – of the centre-left New Democratic Party – claimed the PM’s approach to Islam was similar to Russia’s approach to homosexuality under President Vladmir Putin.

He said: “It’s not dissimilar to what we see with the president of Russia, who uses a minority there, the lesbian, gay, bisexual community… he goes after them with great relish because he knows that it’s going to resonate with a part of the population.”

The PM’s spokesman Rob Nicol rejected the comments, saying: “The comparison to Putin is absurd.

“No Western leader has stood up to Putin’s regime and called him out as strongly as Prime Minister Harper and our Conservative government.”