How the Grinch stole Chanukah: secularism is not a veil for systemic racism

Legitimate observation on timing, whether this was intentional or blindness:

In the same week that an elementary school teacher was removed from her classroom in Quebec for wearing a hijab, the Legault government announced it will loosen the rules for indoor gatherings right in time for Christmas.

I hate to be a Grinch, but in this multi-faith household as we put away the menorah and bring out the Christmas lights, I question when Quebec will stop pretending to be a secular society.

What a coincidence that at this time last year, the CAQ also considered allowing larger gatherings for Christmas, right when holidays from other faiths, such as Chanukah and Diwali, had ended. 

The Legault government preaches about separation between church and state, puts into law Bill 21 preventing public servants (teachers, police, judges, etc.) from wearing religious symbols, and insists that systemic racism is not an issue in Quebec; yet we are expected to believe that loosening of public health measures on Dec. 23 is linked to the state and not the church.

Quebec is not a religiously neutral society; it is a Catholic-based society. Its institutions close for Christmas and Easter; countless streets, towns, hospital, and schools are named after saints; and the crucifix that hung prominently in the national assembly for decades was only recently removed, following much debate and push back. 

Even Bill 21, an act respecting the laicity of state, accommodates those who practice the Catholic faith, since donning a cross around the neck can be concealed, unlike a hijab, turban, or kippah worn on the head.

As this questionable bill impede the lives of marginalized Quebecers, the CAQ government dares, once more, to tempt pandemic fate in the name of Christmas.

Linking new rules for private gatherings to one specific holiday will, of course, never be publicly stated. Instead, it is conveniently suggested that the timing is due to a stabilization in the number of hospitalizations, the fact that the Omicron variant is not circulating widely in the province, that children over five are now being vaccinated. 

This pandemic has brought many issues to light, including the value of critical thinking. Much information is believable when taken at face value, but even evidence-based facts, like statistics, can be misleading when twisted the right way. 

There is no denying that Quebec has done well in its vaccination and public health efforts, but as the world grapples with mutations of a virus that aims to outsmart us, are we to naively believe that this province will be spared because it is Christmas?

Making progress in halting a global pandemic is hardly an excuse for loosening rules, which miraculously coincide with the birth of Jesus. 

If we really want to understand secularism, pay attention to COVID-19, which makes no distinction for any faith in its path of destruction. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus … one multicultural society battling this virus together.

As the candles go out on Chanukah and the Christmas trees light up, let’s be reminded that a secular society caters not to any one faith. Secularism, Mr. Legault, is not a vail for systemic racism.

Susan Mintzberg is a PhD candidate in social work at McGill University. Her research focuses on the role of family caregivers in mental health care.


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.

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