Editorial: Increased hate crimes demand more vigilance and tolerance

Hijab mannequins photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Hate crimes, targeting Jews and Muslims and other minorities, are raging across North America. The latest was at a synagogue outside San Diego, resulting in the slaying of a Jewish woman at prayer services and injuries to three others.

The alleged perpetrator’s online profile includes the anti-Semitic slur “Jews will not replace us,” chanted by Neo Nazis at the Charlottesville rally. The annual survey of anti-Semitic incidents by B’nai Brith’s league for Human Rights released last month showed a 50 percent increase in the number reported to it in Quebec.

Though 677 of 709 involved harassment, the upsurge here must serve as a wake-up call, if one was needed: People with racist and nativist opinion are out there, they are angry, some are armed, and may be ready to act.

The shooting at a Quebec City Mosque in January, 2017 is the most devastating incident of its kind in Quebec history. Alexandre Bissonnette killed six worshippers and injured 19. The shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh just a few months ago was the worst anti-semitic attack in US history.

It does not mean that racism and xenophobia are any worse here than elsewhere, but it does mean that vigilance is more necessary than ever. Security must be reviewed and enhanced at synagogues and mosques and temples that serve minority communities. And the work of the Montreal Police Force’s dedicated hate-crime unit, established by former Mayor Denis Coderre, must be sustained, and reinforced if needed.

The need for increased vigilance is even more pronounced as the debate over Bill 21 is set to begin in Quebec City. The exchanges will reignite debate over legislation that would bar elementary and high school teachers in public schools from wearing religious symbols — the most egregious aspect of the bill.

It would also apply to judges, police, prison guards, and the Speaker of the National Assembly. We continue to believe that such a ban is unnecessary and panders to the irrational fear of the Other that many outside Montreal may have.

But it also has support among some in Montreal who believe that because Quebec institutions represent a secular state, anyone in a position of authority who works directly or indirectly for the state should not reflect their private faith preferences. Many of us remember how powerful and ever-present was the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec until things started to change in the early 1960s. The Church and its various communities of priests and nuns dominated French language education, hospitals, and social-service agencies, providing much-needed services, in the absence of the state.

As late as 1964, the Quebec City daily called L’Évènement ran a column to advise readers on films: those that were frowned upon, labeled à déconseiller, and those that were banned for practicing Catholics, labeled à proscrire. The Quiet Revolution led by Liberal Premier Jean Lesage ushered in a period of radical change and modernization.

Many see Bill 21 as the logical next step in historic efforts to secularize society and move religion out of the public sector. That is probably why public opinion surveys indicate it has widespread support. But surely integration of people from minority groups demands, au contraire, that they be present in our public administration, exercising authority, applying the same laws and regulations and standards as their majority colleagues, even if they display a symbol or wear a hijab or kippah or turban.

What better way can there be to underline that Quebec is a welcoming society, that its population is changing, but that we all work with the same laws and standards, with respect for our differences. Québec Solidaire wants the bill to be withdrawn and we agree.

We believe the Legault government should show leadership and understand that the proposed measure will negatively affect social peace and security. Quebec faces a labour shortage, and the bill and the debate will discourage immigration. Bill 21 is a step backward when it comes to human rights.

The government recognizes that the bill tramples on basic rights, which is why it is invoking the Notwithstanding Clause in anticipation of legal challenges. We have received anecdotal evidence that women who wear the hijab are being harassed. We hope the government comes to its senses and drops these restrictions.

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