Quebec is engaged in a nice, civil, democratic debate over whether a woman wearing a head scarf should be able to sit in the waiting room of a welfare office, or if a Sikh in a turban is such an outrageous affront to the secular state that he’s unfit to sell you a fishing license.
I find this debate as unbelievable as it is nauseous. If it proves anything, it shows that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a joke, as is the mealy-mouthed knock-off, the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Because if a “charter of rights” is so empty that it can allow blatant and cruel discrimination against visible minorities, it is simply a lie to say that it protects anyone from anything.
The Quebec Charter of Values shows politics at its most cynical. It is an evil document drafted by people with an evil intent.
What people don’t seem to remember is that Quebec invited tens of thousands of French-speaking Muslims to settle in the province. Quebec’s birth rate has been in free-fall for two generations, despite big cash bonuses and, more recently, cheap daycare . More pur lainers are dying than are being born. So Quebec took over immigration from the federal government and invited Francophones to settle in the St. Lawrence Valley.
Very few came from France. Instead, they arrived from former French colonies like Algeria and Lebanon. Unlike the locals, the Muslims, at least in the first generation or two, have lots of kids.
Now, to win votes and appeal to the most pigheaded of hicks and rubes, the Parti Québécois has turned on these people. Those who believe their identity and their salvation relies on following their religion, including its clothing rules, are to be legislated into second-class citizens with no right to work in the provincial public service or be seen in the public space.
Partly, this is just old-fashioned race-baiting, something that ebbs and flows in pretty much every culture, from Nazi Germany to America’s Deep South. It’s not new to Quebec. Vicious anti-Semitic propaganda was easy to find in Quebec during World War II and in the years leading up to it. And, during the 1930s, the crypto-fascist government of Maurice Duplessis worked hard to oppress Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Maybe this will play well in Hérouxville and in Saint-Étienne, Saint-Élisabeth, Saint[Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Saint-Rémy, Saint-Jérôme, Saint-Eustache, Saint-Mathieu de Beloeil, Saint-Amable, L’ Assomption, L’Épiphanie, and the lost cause town of Saint-Jude, where, I’m sure, people fret night and day about the possibility of religion intruding on public space.
This is not about what people do. Not even the most deluded Péquiste is accusing Muslim, Christian, and Jewish provincial employees of proselytizing. Not one person has come forward to say that niqab-clad women tried to recruit them to Islam, nor has one agnostic provincial employee been found who can honestly claim that a Jew put the religious moves on him.
This is about what people are. It’s a method of excluding people — mostly Muslim women — from government employment and provincial services because of how they communicate their religious beliefs and culture through clothing. There’s one word for that: fascism.
I doubt this disgusting mess will ever be enshrined in law. The idea that some religious Gestapo will prowl the halls of Montreal Jewish General Hospital looking for doctors with kippas and will haul scarf-wearing Muslim sociology professors from their classes at Concordia University is just too ludicrous to embrace.
In the end, the PQ will “lose” this fight. Then they get to play the victim back in Hérouxville and Saint-Jude, so that even if they lose, they win. Meanwhile, in the real world where some Muslim women already have enough problems fitting into a very distinct society and dealing with patriarchy, the smart ones will take the hint. They’ll head back to the countries of their birth or, more likely, down Highway 401.
And, again, the Péquistes win. As long as they don’t waste time on self-reflection — or the concepts of empathy or democracy — that will suit them just fine.