Returning from foreign soil, many of us take pride in being greeted and checked by hijabwearing Canada Border Services agents – a symbol that Canada is an open and welcoming society where people of all backgrounds and faiths are free to participate on an equal footing.
Unlike France, which imposes a rigid view of laicité – separation of church and state – we expect and demand that public servants, such as border-service agents in positions of authority, put Canadian values, as expressed in our laws and regulations and the charter of rights and freedoms, ahead of religious doctrine. Welcome to Canada.
Unfortunately, in Quebec, where most of these rights were enshrined in the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, some seven years before the federal rights charter, there is another view that appears to hold sway among the majority.
And rather than show leadership on this issue, Premier François Legault and his Coalition avenir Québec, are kowtowing to irrational fears, largely
but not entirely based in rural parts of the province, that Muslims – they are the obvious target – are poised to undermine our way of life.
Judging from the negative reaction in Montreal and across Canada to the legislation tabled last month, it is certainly wishful thinking for Legault to trumpet the idea that this bill should end a debate that has persisted in Quebec for over a decade. In fact, it’s only beginning.
It is an embarrassment to see the government pushing ahead with this regressive move, even invoking the Notwithstanding Clause before the
expected challenges emerge.
The fact that teachers are barred from wearing any religious symbol such as a kippah, hijab, turban is shortsighted and egregious. Yes, teachers in elementary and high schools often are seen as role models, but any trained pedagogue knows she is not permitted to propagate her faith values in any proselytizing context. Education is more than text-based knowledge: What better way to introduce a class of youngsters to someone from a minority
faith community than to see a hijab-clad teacher carry out her duties in much the same way as a colleague who exhibits no religious commitment.
The way she dresses is one way of saying, Welcome to the World, young Quebecers.
While hijab-wearers can continue to work in daycare facilities, this right would be curtailed in public kindergartens. This restriction will block career advancement of these women or compel them to seek employment in private Muslim schools. That would intensify the ghettoization of Muslim women. Whatever happened to the goal of integration of newcomers that was one of the guiding principles of Quebec immigration policy? What better way to integrate than have them working, with their turban, or kippah or hijab in our government offices and from positions of authority, doing what their colleagues do, as required by their terms of employment
Remember the tongue-troopers? They are the language cops that were tasked to check on the extent of compliance with the French Language Charter back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Will the Quebec government soon have to hire headscarf cops to ensure that what teachers wear on their heads has no religious orientation? Will they need pendant cops, to interrogate public servants in positions of authority who wear a crucifix, Star of David, or crescent moon, or Hamsah (which could represent Judaism or Islam) to determine the degree of religious conviction it is meant to symbolize, if any? Get ready for more embarrassing Pasta-gate style ridicule in the world press as Quebec becomes the only jurisdiction in North America to legislate these restrictions.
Several school boards, municipalities, and unions have refused to cooperate and are not carrying out inventories of who may contravene the proposed clothing restriction. These statistics were sought in order to guarantee their jobs while they remain with the same employer. This is the kind of resistance that can have an effect, and attract media attention to the widespread opposition to this bill, especially in Montreal where most immigrants have chosen to settle. A demonstration of opposition will take place on April 7, 12:30pm at Place Émilie-Gamelin, 1500 Berri. There are plans to take the case to the United Nations.
This legislation is so abhorrent for so many it is unlikely, as Legault hopes, to disappear from public debate and scrutiny. Because it is fearbased, if not classic xenophobia in vote-rich outlying regions, do not expect the federal
government to intervene. This is a time for the public to react on restricting clothing and accessories for public servants. It is a time for solidarity and protest. Let’s all cover our heads during these protests. Let the Christians don Kippahs, the secular wear headscarves or turbans. Respect our laws, traditions, and charters that guarantee freedom of religion and expression, and equal treatment for all!
Removing the cross no trade-off for denying human rights
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante and her administration are to be commended for taking the long-overdue step of removing the crucifix from the city council chamber during forthcoming renovations. Premier Legault followed up with his government’s decision to remove it from the National Assembly, and place it elsewhere in the building, given a position that reflects its historic significance.
However, removing the crucifix is no trade-off to mollify disgust with the legislation that bans wearing religious symbols by public servants in positions of authority. The crucifix had no effect on the employment possibilities of Quebecers who are supposed to enjoy equality, and freedom of expression.