Quebec opposition MNAs reopen divisive debate over religious attire with call for ban on burkinis

Sigh. Here we go again:

It was just two years ago that Quebec was tearing itself apart over proposed restrictions on religious attire as the Parti Québécois government of Pauline Marois sought to ride its Charter of Values to reelection.

The PQ lost the 2014 election, but the resulting social wounds were deep. A new study by Quebec researchers in the scientific journal Transcultural Psychiatry surveyed university students and found the Charter was associated with “a shift from a predominantly positive perception of intercommunity relations to a predominantly negative one, particularly among women, immigrants and … cultural or religious minorities.”

You might think that having assessed the damage, Quebec politicians would be cautious about reopening the debate. But for the opposition Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) and one prominent contender for the Parti Québécois leadership, the temptation to score votes on the backs of minorities is apparently too strong.

As a growing number of municipalities in France moves to ban the burkini, a full-body swimsuit worn by some Muslim women, it was a matter of time before the question arose in Quebec.

On Wednesday, the CAQ called on the provincial government to ban the body-covering garment. Nathalie Roy, CAQ critic for secularism, called the burkini an instrument of oppression of women and urged the Liberal government to examine ways to outlaw it as well as other body-covering Muslim garments.

Speaking to 98.5 FM host Paul Arcand Thursday, Roy said she realizes there are few if any burkinis worn on Quebec’s beaches and in its pools. (The Journal de Montréal ran two columns and a news story on the issue Thursday, all of them illustrated with photos from overseas.)

But that is beside the point, Roy said.

“It’s the symbolism,” she said. “It’s a symbol of radical Islam, a radical Islam that is trying to take root in Quebec.” Other politicians are too “politically correct” to confront the issue, she said.

Not the PQ’s Jean-François Lisée, one of the architects of the Charter of Values. On his Facebook page, Lisée called for a debate on the prohibition of burkinis, burkas and niqabs, leaving little doubt where he stands on the question.

“If our society tolerates in the public place this obvious manifestation of the oppression of women, it confirms that this oppression is acceptable and accepted,” he wrote.

Lisée, who is seeking to replace Pierre Karl Péladeau as PQ leader, also argued that burkas should be banned on security grounds.

“We have a declared enemy, the Islamic State, which recruits people here to set bombs,” he wrote. “Our only choice is to debate the prohibition of the burka BEFORE a jihadi uses one to hide his movements for an attack, or AFTER.”

Liberal House Leader Jean-Marc Fournier accused the CAQ and Lisée of practicing a “fearful nationalism of exclusion.” He said it is reasonable to require people to have uncovered faces to give and receive government services, as the government proposes in a bill currently before the legislature. But anything more, he said, is a recipe for isolating minorities.

“It has been said that the state has no place in people’s bedrooms. It has no place in their wardrobes either,” Fournier said.

The CAQ and PQ, tied for the lead among francophone voters in the latest CROP poll, are battling for predominance on the so-called Quebec identity issue. They claim to be seeking to protect the French language and state secularism, but the effect of the discourse is to create a divide between the majority of white francophones and the province’s minorities.

The study in Transcultural Psychiatry suggests a revival of the debate could be damaging. Nearly one-third of the 441 students the researchers surveyed reported having experienced or witnessed an act of religious or ethnic discrimination in the months after the PQ introduced its Charter.

The Charter’s portrayal of such religious symbols as the hijab and kippa as threats to Quebec values contributed to flare-ups of discrimination, the authors, led by psychology professor Ghayda Hassan of the Université du Québec à Montréal, concluded.

“This is how ordinary violence insinuates itself into the very midst of normal life, taking a variety of subtle forms,” they wrote.

Studies around the world have shown that discrimination and tensions around religious and ethnic identity are harmful to youth mental health, and Quebec is no exception, they concluded: “Clearly, building a foundation for living together in harmony from which both immigrants and the host society would benefit still represents a major challenge for present-day Quebec.”

Telling women what to wear at the beach is not going to help.

Source: National Post

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

2 Responses to Quebec opposition MNAs reopen divisive debate over religious attire with call for ban on burkinis

  1. Pingback: On French beach French police forces woman to undress in public | Marcus Ampe's Space

  2. Pingback: Secularism in France becoming dangerous for freedom of religion | Belgian Biblestudents - Belgische Bijbelstudenten

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