Chris Selley: Liberal anti-Islamophobia does not include Quebec

Valid contrast. One does have to question the Liberal’s vetting process and their political understanding of Quebec as this reaction among the Quebec commentariat and politicians was likely:

One of the more astonishing scenes in Canada’s recent political history occurred over the weekend as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his Quebec lieutenant and Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne took turns wagging their fingers at Amira Elghawaby. She had been installed only the day before as Canada’s first official representative to combat Islamophobia, on the eve of the anniversary of the 2017 massacre at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City.

Champagne said he was “worried.” He suggested Elghawaby should take time to reflect upon what she had done. From his fainting couch, Rodriguez declared himself “wounded and shocked as a Quebecer.”

“I certainly don’t agree with her words and I expect her to clarify them,” Trudeau tutted.

Elghawaby’s crime? Elghawaby’s campaigning against Islamophobia actually extends to Quebec.

The controversy began Friday when La Presse unearthed a 2019 op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen, co-written by Elghawaby and fellow Canadian Anti-Hate Network board member Bernie Farber, lamenting the recent passing of Bill 21 — the Quebec legislation, now in force, banning civil servants in certain positions of state authority (notably teachers) from wearing religious garb on the job.

“Unfortunately, the majority of Quebecers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment,” Elghawaby and Farber argued. “A poll conducted by Léger Marketing earlier this year found that 88 per cent of Quebecers who held negative views of Islam supported the ban.”

This is not a controversial statement — certainly not by the standards of those who campaigned against Bill 21, as any reasonable appointee to Elghawaby’s new position would have done, Bill 21 being the most Islamophobic thing going in this country.

The pointless 15-year “reasonable accommodations” psychodrama that produced the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, the Parti Québécois’ failed “values charter” and eventually Bill 21 had some Jewish content, particularly around the issue of kosher food at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital. The Supreme Court’s 2006 decision allowing Sikh students to wear kirpans at school is somewhere in the primordial ooze of this debate.

But no one can honestly deny that the vast majority of the angst was over Islam, and what some of its adherents choose to wear. The notion that the hijab (as opposed to the niqab or burqa) represents a radical, political and evangelical form of Islam is commonly heard in Quebec, and almost never anywhere else in Canada.

The aforementioned 2019 Léger poll found Quebecers’ “net positive” view of Catholics — i.e., positive minus negative – was 66 per cent; of Jews, 55 per cent; of Muslims, 37 per cent. Moving on to personal religious symbols, the net positive view of crucifixes was 59 per cent. The net positive view of kippas was 37 per cent. Of hijabs, 28 per cent. (Keep that in mind the next time someone tells you Bill 21 was a principled extension of the Quiet Revolution. It’s a neat trick, casting off the shackles of the Catholic Church while remaining resolutely pro-crucifix.)

When put on the defensive, Bill 21 supporters will often point out that the idea has support in the Rest of Canada. It’s true to a point: An Abacus Data poll last year found 30 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec liked the idea. But the figure in Quebec was 53 per cent. And rather crucially, Quebec is the only province where any politician in any party has even proposed such a law, never mind followed through on it to popular acclaim.

Elghawaby, an activist and journalist, has committed other rhetorical crimes, especially from the Quebec-nationalist point of view. In 2021, she declared herself nauseated by University of Toronto historian Joseph Heath’s contention that “the largest group of people in this country who were victimized by British colonialism, subjugated and incorporated into confederation by force, are French Canadians.” She has advocated for prayer rooms in public schools, and for including non-Christian holidays on official Canadian calendars. You could hardly pick two better positions to empurple a nationalist with a newspaper column or a seat in a legislature.

“One wonders how this person, with so many prejudices against Quebecers and clearly incapable of understanding the importance of secularism in the historical and social development of Quebec, could help improve the ambient climate and mutual understanding,” professors Nadia El-Mabrouk and François Dugré argued this weekend in La Presse.

She can’t. Almost certainly, no one can. Discussions in this country about Islamophobia, racism, minority rights and everything in that neck of the woods exist in two hermetically sealed chambers: One for Quebec, and one for everyone else. It’s basically impossible to speak to both worlds at once. But if anyone were capable of it, the minimum they would need is to be appointed by a government willing to support her when one world or the other got a bit offended.

As it stands, both the Quebec government and the opposition Conservatives in Ottawa are demanding Elghawaby’s resignation. The Liberals, having denounced her for no good reason, are making it easier, not harder, for them to do so. And they look as ridiculous doing it in Quebec as in the Rest of Canada. Asked Monday by reporters how he responded to the calls for Elghawaby to resign, Trudeau offered up some typically tawdry bafflegab: “She is there to speak for the community, with the community, and build bridges across. Obviously she has thought carefully over many years about the impacts that various pieces of legislation, various political positions, have had on the community. Her job now is to make sure that she’s helping the government and helping everyone.”

Not for the first time with the Trudeau gang, we are left with two simple but baffling questions: What the hell do they think they’re doing? And why haven’t they heard of the internet?

Source: Chris Selley: Liberal anti-Islamophobia does not include Quebec

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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