Commentary on the use of the term genocide in the MMIWG report

Some of the more interesting commentary on both sides of the issue (I favour the critics on this one):

Starting with Jon Kay:

…….Discussing the number of people killed in a genocide has an inherently dehumanizing effect on individual victims. But numbers matter, since the term “genocide” becomes completely meaningless if is used as a catch-all to describe all forms of homicide that afflict disadvantaged groups. The government of Canada recognizes five genocides—corresponding to Armenia, Rwanda, Ukraine, Bosnia and the Nazi Holocaust. The average fatality count for these genocides was about three million. The total number of Canadian MMIWG killed over the last half century is about one thousandth that number.

A finding of genocide does not require the discovery of concentration camps and gas chambers: As with the Armenian and Ukrainian genocides, one may infer genocidal intent based on policies that inflicted deadly conditions on men, women and children by intentionally destroying their property and livelihoods, or casting them out into the wilderness to die by exposure, starvation or pogroms. This is in fact how many real historical genocides against Indigenous peoples were perpetrated. But that has no relevance to the manner by which MMIWG are dying in 2019—which is not by pogrom or rampaging militia, but by the same ordinarily horrible way that most homicide victims meet their end: domestic violence and street crime. Nor is there statistical evidence to suggest that Canadian constabularies as a whole don’t take these crimes seriously—though there are individual cases in which police have acted disgracefully. “In 2014, a higher proportion of homicides of Aboriginal victims were solved by police compared with non-Aboriginal victims (85 percent versus 71 percent),” the government reportedin 2015.

The homicide rate for Aboriginal females in Canada, measured in 2014, was 4.82 per 100,000 population. This is about 30 percent less than the homicide rate for the entire U.S. population (6.2). So the statistical implication of this week’s report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (to cite the body’s full name) is that the entire United States exists in a daily state of permanent genocide.

Of course, one could attempt to prove the existence of such an ongoing U.S. genocide by claiming—truthfully—that the higher rates of black homicide are connected to the American legacy of slavery and other genocidal practices. But if this sort of historical analysis is invoked as a means to justify the use of the term genocide, then literally every killing known to humankind can be swallowed up by the word, since no human being exists in isolation from the past. And that is just one of the many bizarre corollaries that emerge from this inaccurate use of language: Since about 70 percent of MMIWG are killed by Indigenous men, the effect of this week’s declaration is to present Canada’s Indigenous peoples as genocidaires of themselves.

Despite this, many Canadians seem anxious to embrace the report, as it affirms the simple narrative that the challenges faced by Canada’s Indigenous peoples are largely the result of white racism, and so can be solved if Canadians simply awaken to their own collective bigotry. Indeed, the problem of MMIWG has been studied comprehensively on previous occasions, and so it was never completely clear what this new inquiry would supply Canada, except a sort of quasi-evangelical call to arms against the forces of racism. Given this, the inquiry commissioners no doubt felt enormous pressure to deliver a dramatic new re-formulation of the moral stakes at play in the MMIWG crisis, which perhaps explains their decision to supply a grandiose new label to stick on front pages.

In the long run, the effect of this will be not only to erode the moral force of the term genocide, but also to hurt indigenous people by encouraging the terrifying and condescending conceit that their status in Canada is akin to that of Tutsis in 1994 Rwanda or Jews in 1939 Germany. The MMIWG inquiry set out 231 recommendations, which deserve to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, the whole $92-million exercise now is coloured by the rhetorical overreach surrounding the final report.

All societies lie to themselves about genocide. But the nature of the lies change over time. In Tacitus’ channeling of Calgacus, the Romans would “make a solitude and call it peace.” In Canada, we now do something closer to the opposite—summoning into being a spirit of genocide that hasn’t existed since those shameful days of universal plunder.

Source: The Ultimate ‘Concept Creep’: How a Canadian Inquiry Strips the Word ‘Genocide’ of Meaning

Neil Macdonald, on the other hand, avoids the issue:

Buller, with her serene smile, was explicit at the ceremony: “The significant, persistent and deliberate pattern of systemic racial and gendered human and indigenous rights violations and abuses perpetuated historically and maintained today by the Canadian state … is the cause of the disappearances, murders, and violence experienced by Indigenous women … and this is genocide.”

I’m not going to argue with that, as some foolish people like former Conservative minister Bernard Valcourt have already loudly done. Quibbling over the definition of genocide does nothing but help obscure the long history of vicious racism and undeniable suffering of Indigenous people in this country. It’s bad enough whatever you want to call it.

Source: Opinion: Our casual racism causes Indigenous suffering: Neil MacdonaldQuibbling over the definition of genocide does nothing but help obscure the long history of vicious racism and undeniable suffering of Indigenous people in this country. It’s bad enough whatever you want to call it.Opinion |8 hours ago,

Tanya Talaga makes the case in favour, but one that I find less convincing than the arguments against:

Almost four years to the day after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said Canada committed a cultural genocide against Indigenous people, the national inquiry into our murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls took it a step further.

They said the death of our women, by the thousands, was simply a genocide.

The echo is not coincidental.

The genocidal process was the same.

In the words of the four-person commission, the epidemic of deaths and disappearances is the direct result of a “persistent and deliberate pattern of systemic racial and gendered … rights violations and abuses, perpetuated historically and maintained today by the Canadian state, designed to displace Indigenous people from their lands, social structures and governments, and to eradicate their existence as nations, communities, families and individuals.”

As expected, the protests quickly emerged. This is no “genocide,” the critics said. The coast-to-coast-to-coast commission, which interviewed over 2,000 families, survivors and knowledge keepers, exaggerated or got it wrong. Former aboriginal affairs minister Bernard Valcourt, who served under Stephen Harper, started off the bashing with a bang:

“What has been the cost to Canadians for this propagandist report?” he tweeted.

For his part, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to say the word “genocide” as he addressed the assembled families, survivors and commissioners.

But those of us who have been on the wrong side of the “persistent and deliberate pattern” know that “genocide” is the right word.

As the ceremony began, it was Chief Commissioner Marion Buller who said the hard truth is that “we live in a country whose laws and institutions perpetuate violations of fundamental rights, amounting to a genocide.”

Buller, the first appointed First Nations female judge in British Columbia, took a lot of heat when the inquiry began. Members of her team were quitting, families weren’t being properly notified or compensated. Many said her mandate was overly narrow. Yet she weathered it all and fulfilled her highest purpose. She gave voice to the victims.

The inescapable conclusion of all their harrowing and beautiful testimony is that “genocide” is the only word for the state-enabled deaths of thousands of sisters, aunties, grandmothers, cousins and friends.

So why won’t our prime minister say it? What’s he afraid of?

Perhaps he understands that calling the genocide a genocide would acknowledge that his government — and others — are morally culpable for the losses of the thousands of our women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. Or maybe it was the legal culpability that worried him; lawyers no doubt advised Trudeau not to say it. The pollsters, too, were probably against it, as we edge towards an election. It isn’t as easy to take a principled stand when votes are potentially at stake.

Whatever his reasons, his omission was telling. But it hardly dampened the power of the day.

“We don’t need to hear the word genocide come out of the prime minister’s mouth because families have told us their truth,” Buller said during the press conference.

The families of the taken, not forgotten women, agree. They don’t need to hear arguments over what constitutes genocide. They know it to be true because they live it.

As the ceremony drew to a close on Monday, Thunder Bay’s Maddy Murray stopped me and asked me to remember Alinda Lahteenmaki, who died in Winnipeg on Jan. 30, 2009 after plunging 11 storeys. She was 23 years old and her boyfriend pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

“There is no closure,” she said to me as the drums began to beat the warrior song.

But there can be an end to the violence.

The murders and rapes, the violence against Indigenous women and girls will continue until Canada confronts the genocide and the long-promised new relationship is finally delivered.

This requires that Canada confront the historical disadvantages, intergenerational trauma, and discrimination experienced by Indigenous people, the report explained. And that begins with making significant strides toward substantive equality through changes to our justice system, to policing, to social and health services, to education, to everything Canada prides itself on and holds dear.

To many, these institutions are a symbol of what makes Canada great. But the report makes clear that they are far from perfect. That they are rigged against Canada’s first peoples. That they are tools of colonial violence, of genocide.

That is the conclusion of Buller and her team of commissioners.

It is disappointing that many of our politicians refuse to say the word. It would be far worse — a terrible tragedy — if they continued to be complicit in the act.

Source: Tanya Talaga: Why can’t we use the word genocide 

The more pragmatic takes include Chantal Hébert:

As opposition leader in the lead-up to the last federal election, Justin Trudeau did not waste a single day to commit to implement the 94 recommendations of the truth and reconciliation commission.

He made the promise mere hours after the commission reported on the damage inflicted on Canada’s Indigenous peoples by the residential school system and the way forward.

Almost four years into the Liberals’ current term, Trudeau’s government is still struggling to honour that pledge.

That goes some way to account for the contrast in the reception he gave on Monday to the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The prime minister refrained from embracing its 200-plus recommendations, sticking instead to a more general promise to not let the report gather dust.

Most notably, Trudeau steered clear of endorsing the group’s core finding that a planned genocide was the root cause of the violence endured by past and present generations of Indigenous women.

It remains to be seen whether the provocative conclusion that tops the inquiry’s prescriptions will eventually resurface in an official government of Canada statement or in Trudeau’s promised action plan.

Equating the violence Indigenous women have and, in many cases, continue to endure with the interracial mass killings that saw thousands massacred by their compatriots in Rwanda in the late nineties will not come easily to many Canadians or their elected officials.

Indeed, one of the first to reject the equation on Monday was none other than Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian general who led a UN force of peacekeepers in Rwanda at the time of that genocide and who continues to suffer mental anguish from having been powerless to prevent it.

The risk here is that the argument over the use of the term “genocide” steals the show from the reforms the report advocates.

No one — least of all the Indigenous women whose future the inquiry is determined to help make brighter — will be advanced by a fight over what to call an undeniably dismal legacy of discrimination.

As the distinct society debate demonstrated at the time of the Canada/Quebec constitutional wars, words often take on a life of their own, to the detriment of the reconciliation they are meant to advance.

The commission sets ambitious goals and the authors of the report insist their prescriptions are a package deal that has to be accepted as a whole by all levels of governments.

In so doing, they may be programming their report to fail.

One only needs to look at the federation’s difficulty in coming to a common federal-provincial approach to climate change and carbon pricing to know that even with the strongest political will no federal government has it in its power to force the provinces to sing from its hymn book.

The combination of an all-or-nothing approach to the report’s implementation combined with the implication that anyone not on board with its findings is somewhat complicit in a genocide was likely designed to induce a greater sense of public urgency. But it could achieve the opposite.

In the ongoing debate over climate change, increasingly dire predictions about the impact of global warming have as often as not overwhelmed large segments of the target audience. Many simply tuned out.

Every prime minister since Brian Mulroney has either had an Indigenous-related inquiry in progress or had a multi-year commission report on his watch.

It has been 26 years since the Erasmus-Dussault commission handed the federal government of the day a 20-year plan to reset the relationship between Canada and its Indigenous peoples.

That report was the fruit of five year’s work. It was 4,000 pages long and it listed 440 recommendations. Most of them have not been implemented.

In 2015, the truth and reconciliation report — at more than 2,500 pages over six volumes — produced 94 recommendations. (That comparatively modest number is somewhat misleading as more than a few had multiple subsets.) Their implementation is, at best, still a work in progress.

On Monday, the national inquiry recycled many of its predecessors’ recommendations. It expanded the scope of previous prescriptions that have yet to be even partly followed up on.

The 2015 truth and reconciliation report described the residential schools as a feature of a “cultural genocide” and issued “calls for action.”

The national inquiry’s report concludes that the violence against Indigenous women and girls is part of a planned genocide and issues “calls for justice.”

When it comes to achieving reconciliation with the country’s Indigenous peoples, Monday’s report like the others before it makes it clear that Canada still has miles and miles to go.

But when it comes to the federal government tasking commissions of inquiry with drafting road maps, this report should probably mark the end of the road.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2019/06/03/murdered-and-missing-women-report-risks-being-ignored-with-its-all-or-nothing-approach.html

John Ivison in the National Post:

….The MMIWG probe was launched by Prime Minster Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government as part of its commitment to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was a reasonable gesture of reconciliation, charged with symbolism, in the face of truly appalling statistics of violence against Indigenous women. The RCMP has said they made up 16 per cent of all female homicides between 1980 and 2012, despite comprising just 4 per cent of the population.

Victimization rates are not only triple those of non-Indigenous women, they are double those of Indigenous males.

While Indigenous identity does not explain the high victimization rate among native men — analysts suggest the increased presence of other risk factors such as homelessness, drug use or poor mental health are more responsible — Indigenous women are the country’s most vulnerable citizens simply by virtue of being Indigenous and female.

As Trudeau said, this is “not a relic of our past.”

No parent could read Bernice C.’s testimony and not be moved — certainly not this parent.

But the report’s release seems set to stoke division rather than engender good will.

It could have offered a focused blueprint on how to improve the safety of Indigenous women; instead the inquiry commissioners have produced a sprawling report that demands transformational change in all corners of Canadian society.

Despite Trudeau’s assurances that the document will not end up gathering dust, it appears destined to join the growing bibliotheca of mothballed Indigenous reports.

For that, the commissioners have themselves to blame.

They were asked to investigate violence against Indigenous women and to recommend concrete actions to increase their safety.

They chose to make the broadest possible interpretation of that mandate, rather than limit it to the specific issue of murdered and missing women.

The report spends comparatively little time looking at household victimization and spousal violence rates

Their conclusion is that the disproportionate rate of violence against Indigenous women is a direct consequence of hundreds of years of colonialism and discrimination that constitutes a “genocide.”

If it is a genocide, it is not one recognized by retired Lt.-General Romeo Dallaire — and he should know, having seen the real thing up close while commanding the UN mission in Rwanda in 1994. He said Monday that for him, genocide is the deliberate act of killing people of a certain ethnicity.

But the commissioners chose instead to use the interpretation of Polish-Jewish scholar Raphael Lemkin, who deemed that genocide is a co-ordinated plan to destroy the foundations of a national group with the aim of annihilating the group.

Systemic racism, sexism and colonialism has produced “institutional violence,” perpetuated by institutions such as the military, the church, the educational system, the health system, the police, emergency responders and the justice system, the report asserted.

The commissioners called on everyday Canadians to help “decolonization” by becoming strong allies. But even right-thinking people who are appalled by the victimization statistics are likely to recoil at the charge they are complicit in genocide. Canada has added three million new citizens in the past decade. Are newly-arrived Canadians going to feel remorse for a colonial past for which they bear no responsibility? To ask the question is to answer it.

While focusing on “institutional violence,” the report spends comparatively little time looking at household victimization and spousal violence rates that are significantly higher than those for non-Indigenous Canadians.

The inquiry’s time would have been better spent detailing the report’s principle recommendation — the creation of a national action plan to address violence against Indigenous women. It calls for equitable access to employment, housing, education, safety and health care but offers few specifics.

In his sober response Monday, Trudeau said his government will develop a national plan to augment its efforts on housing, boil water advisories, education and indigenous languages.

He called the report’s release “an essential day in the history of this country” — but, noticeably, he made no mention of genocide.

Many of the report’s “calls for justice” from government are sensible; others are unworkable.

In the former category, the production of an annual report of ongoing action; the creation of an Indigenous rights ombudsman; the delivery of violence prevention programs; and improved access to major crime units in the north appear to be good ideas.

Among the less pragmatic recommendations are the suggestion to re-open the Constitution to bring it into conformity with the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People; and, the creation of a guaranteed annual liveable income.

Some are borderline satirical — such as the recommendation calling for the promotion of Indigenous women to leadership positions (this government has tried that, with unfortunate consequence).

Others are set to get a frosty reception from the Liberals — for example, the suggestion that in murder cases where there is a pattern of intimate partner violence and abuse, a harsher sentence is awarded. Crown-Indigenous Relations minister Carolyn Bennett has already said she has heard a negative response to the idea because it removes the discretion of judges in similar fashion to mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.

Most of the recommendations can be debated by reasonable people as part of a public policy discussion.

What is regrettable is the uncompromising claim by chief commissioner Marion Buller that all Canadians, except the country’s Indigenous inhabitants, are party to a “deliberate, race, identity and gender-based genocide.”

The final report offered the chance for closure and for families to put their pain behind them. The world is full of weeping but it does not go backward.

Yet, rather than a new dawn, where Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians could come together to condemn an unacceptable past and commit to build a better future, the opportunity has been eclipsed. Instead, we have the indictment that the bulk of the citizenry is engaged in annihilating its Indigenous minority.

That is not going to help the healing to begin.

Source: John Ivison: MMIW report is devastating, but its uncompromising nature may limit its impact

Lastly, a thoughtful exploration of the issue by:

Il est temps, peut-on lire dans une explication juridique publiée en marge de l’Enquête nationale sur les femmes et les filles autochtones disparues et assassinées, « de regarder la réalité en face : les politiques, actions et inactions coloniales passées et actuelles du Canada à l’égard des peuples autochtones constituent un génocide, lequel, conformément au droit liant le Canada, exige l’imputabilité ». L’Enquête affirme que « les structures et les politiques coloniales persistent aujourd’hui au Canada et qu’elles constituent l’une des causes profondes de la violence ».

Pour certains critiques, cette vision plus large des causes du drame qui touche les femmes décentre la portée du rapport qui leur est consacré en le propulsant dans un procès qui concerne toute l’histoire coloniale du pays. De fait, l’usage même du terme « génocide » est remis en cause.

Mais de l’avis même du rapport, l’Enquête nationale « ne prétend pas démontrer pleinement tous les éléments de la politique génocidaire », faute d’avoir entendu « l’ensemble de la preuve ». Mais elle penche néanmoins de ce côté, au point de ne pas se refuser un usage abondant du terme, tout en répétant que « la détermination formelle de la responsabilité pour génocide doit être déterminée par des organes judiciaires ».

Un abus de langage ?

Est-ce donc un abus de langage ou encore le fait d’une inflation verbale que d’user ainsi du terme « génocide » ?

Oui, dit l’ancien militaire Roméo Dallaire. À l’occasion d’un colloque organisé lundi par l’Institut d’études sur le génocide et les droits humains à l’Université Concordia, l’ancien commandant de la Mission des Nations unies au Rwanda a dénoncé cet usage du mot génocide. À son sens, la condition des femmes autochtones ne tient pas à l’effet d’un génocide, puisqu’il n’y a pas eu de volonté formelle de détruire un groupe humain au nom de leur caractère ethnique. L’ancien militaire n’en dénonce pas moins la condition faite aux Autochtones au Canada.

Sa définition, fondée sur une idée de la destruction physique d’un peuple, est partagée par l’historienne Deborah Lipstadt, professeure en études juives à l’Université Emory. Sans vouloir se prononcer sur la condition historique des Autochtones du Canada, mais tout en étant au fait de leur réalité, l’historienne affirme au Devoirqu’« il doit y avoir une volonté de destruction intentionnelle, une volonté d’éradiquer » pour parler de génocide. « Il faut consulter les documents, écouter les peuples concernés, analyser les décisions gouvernementales ». Le génocide, dit-elle, conduit à une destruction physique ou, à tout le moins, à une tentative de destruction.

Pour l’historien Pierre Anctil de l’Université d’Ottawa, spécialiste de l’histoire juive, l’usage du mot « génocide » en ce cas est étonnant. « Un crime contre un peuple est annoncé et planifié ». Il ne saurait être « le fait d’une série de gestes individuels, qui ne sont pas coordonnés. Je ne pense pas que ça corresponde aux sévices subis par les femmes autochtones. Je ne crois pas que ce soit concerté. Mais c’est par ailleurs une tendance de parler de génocide culturel. Dans ce cas, on rend difficile, voire impossible, la perpétuation d’une culture. Ce peut être une autre forme de génocide ».

Les mésusages

Dans Génocides, usages et mésusages d’un concept(CNRS éditions), un livre qui vient de paraître, l’historien des idées Bernard Bruneteau met en garde contre l’utilisation du terme dans une spirale inflationniste. Cette escalade rhétorique s’inscrit désormais « dans le registre émotionnel et le désir de souffrir par comparaison ».

Il existe des cas de génocides, selon la définition de 1948 des Nations unies, qui sont consacrés par l’alignement de la mémoire du groupe victime, de l’histoire scientifique de l’événement et du droit : le génocide des juifs européens (1941?1945), des Tutsis du Rwanda (1994), des musulmans bosniaques de Srebrenica (juillet 1995), des Khmers rouges à l’encontre des minorités Chams et vietnamiennes (1975?1979). Il existe aussi d’autres cas « en attente de pleine reconnaissance et à ce titre parfois contestés ou relativisés », dit l’historien Bruneteau. Par exemple, l’Arménie (1915?1916), l’Ukraine (1932?1933) ou le Cambodge (1975?1979).

Mais on trouve aussi désormais des cas où « le droit et l’histoire sont en retrait d’une mémoire sociale souvent militante qui entend sensibiliser le monde à la réalité d’un préjudice passé ». Des demandes de reconnaissance pourront sur cette base se multiplier, dit-il, par une extension de l’idée de génocide, « notamment chez les descendants des peuples indigènes victimes de la destruction de leur environnement (aborigènes d’Australie, Maya Achis du Guatemala, Yanomanis d’Amazonie, Achés du Paraguay…), chez les porte-parole autoproclamés des minorités ethniques opprimées aux quatre coins de la planète et chez les descendants de tous les groupes se percevant comme victimes de l’histoire ». En d’autres termes se profile un divorce entre la définition juridique du génocide et la réalité qu’elle est censée résumer, affirme Bernard Bruneteau.

Source: Inflation verbale ou définition élargie?

Chantal Hébert: Trudeau has a choice to make about Quebec’s secularism debate

Indeed:

It is not only on the pipeline front that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a politically critical call to make in the lead-up to the upcoming federal campaign.

At some point in the not-so-distant future, he will have to decide whether to become more actively involved in Quebec’s ongoing secularism debate. That time is almost upon his government.

On Thursday, a Quebec parliamentary commission held its final day of public hearings on Bill 21. By all indications, the law that would forbid public sector workers in so-called positions of authority from wearing religious symbols will be on the books before the National Assembly adjourns for the summer next month.

Under the legislation, it will become a condition of employment for future police officers, prison guards, judges, Crown prosecutors and public schoolteachers to abstain from wearing religious symbols in their workplaces.

On the day Premier François Legault introduced the bill, Trudeau came out swinging. The prime minister has consistently argued that it is wrong and unnecessary to curtail the freedoms of religious minorities in the name of ensuring the secular character of Quebec’s public institutions.

Since then, a cone of silence has fallen on the federal capital.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and his NDP counterpart Jagmeet Singh both say they disapprove Quebec’s state-enforced approach to secularism.

But inasmuch as they do not reflect the views of all their Quebec MPs, neither is eager to prod Trudeau into more forceful action.

According to sources in the Quebec government, the prime minister is reserving his definitive decision as to the federal way forward until Bill 21 has been passed into law.

One option could see Trudeau turn to some rarely used sections of the Constitution to block the legislation. He could also refer the bill to the Supreme Court for an opinion, or have the federal government intervene in support of the groups that are already lining up to fight it in court.

Although Legault has pre-emptively used the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution to shelter Bill 21 from a Charter challenge, there remain a number of legal avenues open to its opponents.

Meanwhile, appeals for a forceful federal intervention — from both within and outside Quebec — have been few and far between

By comparison to the vocal debate that attended the Parti Québécois attempt to legislate on the same issue only six years ago, the discussion of Bill 21 has been, if not serene, at least less acrimonious than the previous instalment.

There are reasons for this difference.

The PQ charter covered every single public service worker — from child care workers to hospital orderlies.

Bill 21 only applies to a handful of groups, and mostly to future hires. It grandfathers the right of existing employees to wear religious symbols for as long as they continue to hold their current positions.

The 2013 charter was introduced by a minority Parti Québécois government looking for a springboard to a majority.

Between the time that charter was introduced and the election that ended in defeat for the PQ half a year later, the secularism issue remained at centre stage at the expense of all other provincial initiatives.

Legault, by comparison, is in the first months of a four-year term. He has time on his side.

Even as it has been steering Bill 21 through the National Assembly, the Coalition Avenir Québec government has not allowed it to come across as a raison d’être.

And then battle fatigue has set in. Quebecers have been discussing the place of religious symbols in the public space for more than a decade.

By now, everyone has had his or her say and most have chosen a side, with little middle ground between the two camps.

On that basis, the committee hearings on Bill 21 — even as they allowed for an airing of contrary views — featured few if any surprises.

Seven of the 36 organizations initially invited to testify declined to participate.

For different reasons, Charles Taylor and Gérard Bouchard, the two leading Quebec public intellectuals whose commission report a decade ago set off the debate over the banning of religious symbols, both profoundly dislike Bill 21.

Taylor has come to feel no legislation is the better option. Bouchard argues that expanding the religious symbols ban to teachers goes much too far.

But by now, the genie will not be put back in the bottle, at least not by those who initially let it out.

If one had to single out one takeaway from the committee hearings, it is that the political ship of Bill 21 — at least in the eye of both its fans and its detractors — has already sailed.

If Trudeau has been keeping his finger on the Quebec pulse since the debate that has polarized his home province for a decade resumed, he will allow that ship’s next port of call to be a court of law and not the federal campaign trail.

Source: Chantal Hébert: Trudeau has a choice to make about Quebec’s secularism debate

Chantal Hébert: Quebec provides a warning that Scheer should be careful about making immigration a campaign theme

Good insightful column as usual:

Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives may want to push pause on plans to make immigration a signature federal campaign theme next fall long enough to take stock of the turn in the Quebec election conversation.

Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault thought he was reaching for a low-hanging fruit when he embraced the issue. With less than two weeks to go until the Oct. 1 vot,e it has turned into a poisoned apple.

Since midcampaign, the CAQ has lost a significant amount of support.

The latest Léger sounding — done between last Thursday’s French-language debate and Monday’s English-language debate — found a six-point drop in the party’s lead among the francophone voters who will determine the outcome of the election.

Legault’s hopes for a governing majority are fading fast. It could still get worse. With the last leaders’ face-off set for Thursday, only half of his supporters say their choice is final.

The decline in CAQ fortunes essentially comes down to one issue: immigration and the party’s bid to both reduce Quebec’s overall intake of immigrants and accelerate, by coercive means if necessary, their integration into the province’s French-language mainstream.

Under the party’s plan, Quebec would cut its annual intake of immigrants by one fifth and those who after three years fail to meet the province’s language requirements would be made to leave. (It remains unclear how that would be achieved.)

At the time the policy was conceived last spring, Legault and his brain trust believed they had come up with a winning combination, a way to tap into longstanding francophone concerns over the preservation of Quebec’s French-language identity without alienating the province’s non-francophone voters.

Instead the plan has become a millstone.

Many voters are repulsed by the coercive regimen his party is proposing to impose on future immigrants. Others question the notion that Quebec’s immigration intake should be reduced.

On the latter, Legault has managed to run afoul of the mayors of Montreal and Quebec City and of many smaller towns spread out across the province.

They are all arguing that with Quebec plagued by labour shortages caused by the fast-aging of its population, the time is particularly ill chosen to cut down on immigration.

The Léger poll found Quebecers divided over the issue with 45 per cent in favour of a reduction and 47 per cent against.

But with the bulk of the province’s chattering class along with his election rivals aligned against his proposals, Legault is clearly losing the air war.

He has been in damage-control mode for most of the past week, scrambling to put the issue of his own signature policy to rest. But with every new explanation, there have been more questions as to how much actual thinking has gone into the crafting of the CAQ’s immigration platform and what the many unanswered issues it raises say about the party’s competence to run a government.

As the Léger poll was putting a number on the rising toll Legault’s decision to fight part of the campaign on the immigration minefield is taking on his party’s fortunes, the Conservative opposition in the House of Commons was accusing the Trudeau government of having eroded voters’ confidence in Canada’s immigration policy.

But in the province where the issue has been top of mind for weeks — the very place that is ground zero for the influx of irregular border crossers transiting from the U.S. to Canada — the evidence suggests otherwise.

For the first time in decades, there is an expanding Quebec audience, outside of the already diverse Montreal area, supporting the notion that immigration is part of the solution to the province’s economic challenges.

At the same time, the federal Conservative party’s summer-long effort to highlight the irregular refugee issue has had little or no echo in the provincial campaign. The refugee file started to drop from the Quebec radar around the time the Trump’s administration’s policy of separating the children of illegal immigrants to the U.S. from their parents surfaced in the media. That is probably not a complete coincidence.

And then for all the talk about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau losing the argument over irregular border crossings, it has so far had no significant impact on his party’s fortunes. At the end of a difficult summer for his government, his ruling party continues to enjoy a prohibitive lead in Quebec. At the national level, the gap between the leading Liberals and the Conservatives has widened.

There is a reason why mainstream provincial and federal parties have rarely if ever made immigration a major campaign plank in the past. As Legault’s experience is demonstrating, it is easy to lose control of the narrative.

Source: Chantal Hébert: Quebec provides a warning that Scheer should be careful about making immigration a campaign theme

By campaigning to cut immigration, Quebec’s opposition parties are playing politics with their province’s future

Great piece by Chantal Hébert, pointing out the sweetheart deal that Quebec has with respect to funding for immigrant integration and how it compares with federal funding to other provinces.

The numbers tell the story. Last time I looked, the federal government transferred $345 million to Quebec (2016-17 budget). While comparisons are inexact, the 2015-16 Rapport annuel de gestion of Quebec’s Ministère de l’immigration, de la diversité et de l’inclusion indicates about $97 million in direct program spending for language training (francisation) and integration services (65 percent of the total budget of about $150 million). 

Quite a gap!

Among Canada’s larger provinces, none is greying faster than Quebec. For the first time in its modern history, the province is struggling with labour shortages. To varying degrees all its regions including Montreal are affected.

Those shortages are projected to become more acute as the last of the baby boomers retire over the coming decade. Attracting workers from other provinces —as Alberta, Ontario or British Columbia routinely do — is less than an optimal solution. There is not in the rest of Canada a big supply of skilled workers readily able to function in French.

Why then are the province’s two main opposition parties campaigning on a promise to cut down on immigration?

If elected to power on Oct. 1, the currently leading Coalition Avenir Québec would reduce the number of immigrants coming to the province by 20 per cent as of its first year in office.

A CAQ government would also force newcomers, who do not after three years meet a government-set level of proficiency in French, to leave Quebec.

For its part, the Parti Québécois would limit admission to applicants who are already fluent in French. At this point, less than half of Quebec’s annual immigration intake falls in that category.

Under either plan, the number of immigrants admitted to the province would decline significantly.

By virtue of a longstanding federal-provincial agreement, Quebec selects all its immigrants except for those who apply for refugee status from inside Canada or who qualify under the family reunification program. But the citizenship process itself remains a federal responsibility and the national norms set by Ottawa apply in all provinces.

Quebec awards more points to applicants who are already fluent in French; it also proactively tries to woe them.

If there were a neglected pool of would-be immigrants — with the language skills the PQ considers essential — somewhere in the world, the province would have already found it.

On its face, the CAQ’s proposal to expel from Quebec those who fail to meet its language requirements is unconstitutional. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right of permanent residents to move from one province to another as they see fit.

But even if it did not, the proposition that the federal government — regardless of the party in power — should undertake to remove immigrants from Quebec to forcibly settle them elsewhere in Canada or, alternatively, to send them back to their country of origin would be dead on arrival on Parliament Hill.

Indeed, if CAQ Leader François Legault does become premier this fall, he might want to question the wisdom of shining a spotlight on the Quebec/Canada immigration accord, especially in a federal election year.

The agreement was last renegotiated in the immediate aftermath of the demise of the Meech Lake Accord — at a time when then-prime minister Brian Mulroney was desperate to blunt the impact of the failure of his constitutional bid in Quebec. It can be amended but not terminated by the federal government.

There is a reason why no Quebec government — including the PQ-led ones — has wanted to reopen the deal. It is one of the most advantageous federal-provincial agreements ever struck in the history of the federation.

It includes an escalator clause that ensures the funds Ottawa transfers to Quebec for immigration purposes do not decrease from year to year.

After more than two decades, there is a significant gap between the money Quebec receives per capita for integration purposes versus the funds transferred to the other provinces. That gap is larger than the extra costs involved in offering French-language training services. One would think no Quebec government would go out of its way to highlight this.

But then to look to common sense for the rationale of the PQ and the CAQ’s immigration proposals is to look in the wrong place.

By casting immigration as a threat to Quebec’s francophone identity, the CAQ and the PQ are playing to an audience of swing nationalist voters who could make or break their respective hopes on Oct. 1.

In this spirit, at mid-campaign Legault is casting his immigration platform as a firewall designed to prevent a French-language Quebec from disappearing within two or three generations.

There are no statistics to support the CAQ leader’s doomsday scenario. Quebec requires all immigrant children to be schooled in French until the end of high school. Even if their parents never managed to master the language, they would.

Were a future Quebec government to deliberately decrease its immigration intake even as the other provinces go the other way, it would be at a cost not only to its economy but also to its demographical weight and its influence in the federation.

Source: By campaigning to cut immigration, Quebec’s opposition parties are playing politics with their province’s future

Quebec’s face-covering bill unites rivals who together question the government’s competence: Hébert

Chantal Hébert on the comedy of errors with Bill 62 implementation:

With the law that prescribes that provincial and municipal services be rendered and received with one’s face uncovered, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has achieved the impossible. His Liberal government has reconciled the two opposite camps in the Quebec religious accommodation debate behind the notion that it is running a gong show.

A week after the adoption of the controversial law, one would be hard-pressed to find a good word about the just-adopted Bill 62 anywhere in the province’s media.

Even Quebec Liberal party insiders privately admit that they are flabbergasted by the improvisation that has attended the government foray into the religious accommodation minefield.

Over the past few days, Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée has offered conflicting interpretations of her own law, convincing critics that she is making up the rules that pertain to its application as she goes along.

Last week for instance, Vallée fended off allegations that her bill was discriminatory by arguing that the obligation to uncover one’s face to board a city bus would apply as equally to transit riders sporting large sunglasses as to the Muslim women who wear the niqab or burqa. They all would have to remove their face coverings for what she described as “the duration of the rendering of the public service.”

On Tuesday, Vallée walked back her talk, insisting that the prescription to uncover one’s face applied only to “interaction” between a citizen and a public servant. On that basis, most people could presumably board a bus or presumably take out a library book without showing their faces.

In Quebec, library cards do not feature photographs. Neither do transit passes except in the case of students and senior citizens who are expected to show proof of age to pay a reduced rate.

In any event, the minister assured that no one would ever be thrown off a bus on account of Bill 62 because — she said — someone who did not comply with the law would be left at the bus stop.

The minister’s convoluted explanations did little to reassure those who feel that the bill is a discriminatory solution in search of a problem. It is estimated that there are less than 300 Muslim women who wear a face-covering veil province-wide.

Moreover, as elsewhere in Canada it is already impossible in Quebec to obtain government-issued ID cards such as a driver’s license or a health card without allowing one’s picture to be taken with one’s face uncovered

Vallée’s latest take on her own bill also confirmed the fears of those who feel it is much too narrow

The PQ opposition is working on a more muscular version of Bill 62. It will feature the imposition of a secular dress code on public servants in positions of authority such as judges or police officers. The party also wants to explore the notion of banning face-covering veils from all public places. A pequiste government would use the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution to shelter its law from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Coalition Avenir Québec also has proposals that go well beyond the Liberal law. Both opposition parties will campaign on their proposals in next fall’s provincial election.

Meanwhile, opponents and proponents of state-enforced restrictions on the rights of religious minorities are united in questioning the competence of the Liberal government.

It is increasingly unclear what constituency Premier Couillard expected to satisfy with the government’s ill-conceived law.

The premier does have a well-documented tendency to political tone-deafness. Earlier this month he seemed surprised and frustrated that a cabinet shuffle that left his ministerial frontline essentially unchanged did not elicit rave reviews about his government sporting a new face.

At the time of the shuffle, Couillard maintained Vallée in her justice role even if she had consistently seemed to be in over her head in that portfolio.

Over the past week there has been a chorus of calls for Bill 62 to be withdrawn in its entirety. It would be pretty unprecedented for a ruling party to shelf a law it has just used its majority to adopt.

Until it is replaced by a government of a different stripe or possibly struck down by a court, Bill 62 will likely remain on the books where it primarily stands as a token of political turpitude.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/10/25/quebecs-face-covering-bill-unites-rivals-who-together-question-the-governments-competence-hbert.html

Trudeau will pay the price if he wavers on Trump: Martin, Hébert, Glavin – The Globe and Mail

Tricky balance for the government to navigate, one that will likely only become more challenging:

Exaggerators, overreactors, alarmists, wolf criers. They make up the ascendant, paranoid right in politics. Canadians, by contrast, show an opposite lean. We’re more inclined to equanimity, seeing things in the round.

It’s one of our finer qualities and it was manifest following Donald Trump’s action against Muslims and refugees, as well as the Quebec murders allegedly perpetrated by a lone-wolf screwball.

Justin Trudeau was out before other world leaders with the message that the excluded were welcome here. Many Conservatives, Jason Kenney included, took issue with the Trump edict as well.

Following the horror in Sainte-Foy, there were no overheated calls from Mr. Trudeau or opposition leaders for a security crackdown on freedoms. Instead, there was this statement by the Prime Minister: “We will not meet violence with more violence. We will meet fear and hatred with love and compassion. Always.”

That, of course, runs directly counter to the Archie Bunkerish proclivities of the new U.S. President and his Visigothic sidekick, Stephen Bannon. Mr. Trump has just come to power and already cross-border relations are rocky. We should get used to it. A long run of bilateral warfare is likely in the offing.

The initial idea, a reasonable one, was to wait before jumping to conclusions about where Mr. Trump was headed. Maybe a lot of his campaign demagoguery was just P.T. Barnum bluster. But it took only a week of announcements – Mexican wall, Muslim wall – to show that he was fully intent on implementing his agenda.

We’re in completely new territory with this U.S. administration. There has never been one like it – and never one so unlike our own. The John Diefenbaker and John Kennedy fissure was based on less. So was the split between Richard Nixon and Pierre Trudeau. The divide today extends to trade, immigration, climate change, social justice, foreign policy and much else. It also extends to temperament, world view and philosophy.

Some say we should bury our differences because relations with Washington are simply too important to let sour. Others say you can suck up to power or you can stand on principle. The Trudeau government would like to find a middle ground. It may be able to work out an accommodation on trade issues. But events are dictating – and likely will continue to dictate – a wide divide.

Global protests greeted Mr. Trump’s actions, with Mr. Trudeau being saluted for his initial statement. Many see Canada as playing a leading role in countering “America First” naiveté.

The country is well-equipped to take on such a challenge. Our unity has rarely, if ever, been stronger than it is today. Regional discontent is at one of its all-time lows. The spirit of positivism that Justin Trudeau has ushered in to contrast the bunker mentality of the Conservative decade has weakened somewhat owing to his recent stumbles.

But to get the measure of how well, comparatively speaking, this country is doing, one need only look at what have been seen as the big controversies stirring in Ottawa. There was the Prime Minister’s Christmas holidaying with the Aga Khan. Horrors. There was his self-admitted slip-up in answering a question in French instead of English. A barn burner, to be sure. There’s been the endless, tedious debate over the issue that most Canadians could not care a fig about. Electoral reform.

Many times in the past our government has had to stake out positions running directly counter to Washington’s. Jean Chrétien’s run-ins with George W. Bush are one example. Pierre Trudeau’s handling of Mr. Nixon constituted another. On neither occasion did we pay too big a price. As for Mr. Trump, he can’t put up walls everywhere. He can’t go about alienating every economic partner.

Mr. Trudeau should make it clear in his coming meeting with him that there will be no relenting on Canada’s contrary beliefs. He and the President are going to have to agree to very much disagree.

If he sells out to Mr. Trump, Canadians will make him pay. And so they should.

Source: Trudeau will pay the price if he wavers on Trump – The Globe and Mail

Chantal Hébert in the Star:

Canada would not even beg to differ in public with Trump’s outlandish assertion that keeping out refugees, visitors and immigrants including green card holders from some Muslim-majority countries was necessary to keep the U.S. safe from attacks.

Given that we share the same continent, it is hard to think of a government leader better placed to offer a rebuttal of that narrative than Canada’s.

But while Trudeau and many others in his government spent the past weekend reaffirming their attachment to Canada’s diversity and their determination to continue to enrich it, they all steered well clear of rebutting the premises of the U.S. ban.

That task fell to non-Liberals such as former Conservative immigration minister Jason Kenney. In a series of tweets on Saturday, he described Trump’s executive order as “a brutal ham-fisted act of demagogic political theatre” and called on Republicans in the American congress to challenge it.

In a statement issued on behalf of all Canadian universities on Sunday and calling for the ban to be ended immediately, their association pointedly noted that this was an issue “that was too important to stay quiet on.”

Asked point blank to address the ban issue in question period on Monday, the prime minister skirted NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s question and stuck to touting Canada’s diversity.

The problem with Canada’s tongue-biting approach is that some actions speak louder than others, especially when they are those of a U.S. administration that is using the office of president as a bullhorn to equate Muslims with security threats.

The refusal to engage beyond the very narrow scope of securing Canadian exemptions from measures that have negative planet-wide implications leaves the field wide open to those — starting with the new administration — who are only too eager to distort facts for their own purposes.

Surely Trudeau did not see the White House’s appropriation of the Quebec City tragedy as fodder for its controversial entry ban coming. Chances are this will not be the last time he is blindsided by his U.S. vis-à-vis.

It was always a given that there would be limits to the lengths the Trudeau government could go to in its quest for a transactional relationship with the Trump administration. But few expected those limits to be reached over a matter of little more than a single week. And yet they have.

In wake of mosque shootings, Trudeau silent on Trump’s ban on Muslims: Hébert

And Glavin calls for action on Syrian refugees turned away by Trump:

This is just one small, brave thing that Canadians can do that would be rather more useful than being entertained by their politicians composing tweets about what a nice country Canada is. We could take in at least some of those refugees that Trump has turned away.

Over the Christmas holidays, Hussen’s predecessor, John McCallum, quietly capped the 2017 quota of privately sponsored Syrian refugees at 1,000—this after Canadians privately sponsored nearly 14,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. There are about 25,000 Syrian refugees still in the backlog for resettlement in Canada in 2017. Hussen could lift McCallum’s cap on private refugee sponsorships. This is more or less what the Canadian Council for Refugees proposed on Sunday.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, roughly 18,000 Syrian refugees were resettled in the United States during Barack Obama’s presidency. Canada has taken in more than 40,000 since November 2015. The United States was set to take in 3,566 Syrian refugees during the first three months of this year. According to the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, 1,318 Syrian refugees were resettled in the United States between Jan. 1 and last Friday, when the American door slammed shut. That leaves 2,248 innocent Syrian refugees immediately “stranded,” indefinitely, by Trump’s idiocy. We could take them, at a minimum. We could do this.

Either Canadians are the big-hearted and welcoming people our politicians claim we are, or we’re not. Either diversity is our strength, or it is not.

Piety is one thing. Brave policy is quite another.

It’s time for Justin Trudeau to do brave things

Canada’s diversity model should be defended, not denounced: Hébert

Hébert on Canada’s model of multiculturalism and integration.

Not sure which proponents she is referring to that are not arguing in the model’s favour – there appears to be a fair amount of commentary from both perspectives among the commentariat, and as she notes, the vast majority of Canadian political leaders do argue in its favour:

And yes, it includes most of what one could describe as the country’s political elite. Canada’s federal, provincial and municipal leaders do sit at the top of the pyramid. But it is voters that put them there.

All this is to say that Canada should embrace rather than brace for a challenge to its immigration and integration model.

It is not as if the discussion is going to go away just because it has the potential to be divisive.

This is a debate that already invited itself in the last Quebec and federal elections.

If anything, the refusal of many proponents of Canada’s approach to cultural diversity to argue for it on its merits only weakens their case.

One cannot simultaneously set Canada up as a model to the world and refuse to defend the country’s approach to cultural diversity at home for fear of shattering the societal consensus that sustains it.

In the late ’80s, the Reform party threw down the gauntlet at the supporters of official bilingualism. Preston Manning believed he could tap in to the frustrations of a silent (unilingual) majority.

The Reformers’ opponents castigated them for calling for a debate on Canada’s language policy. This is a boat — they said — that no responsible politician should want to rock.

And yet the discussion the Reform party forced on its rivals ended up strengthening Canada’s linguistic duality.

In time, Manning lost his leadership in no small part because he was unable to become bilingual enough to campaign efficiently in French — and unable to convince enough Canadians that it should not matter.

Source: Canada’s diversity model should be defended, not denounced: Hébert | Toronto Star

Quebec cabinet shuffle reflects momentum from Trudeau’s gender parity commitment: Hébert

Chantal Hébert gets it right on gender parity in her comments on Quebec Premier Couillard’s recent cabinet shuffle:

But before concluding that this only proves that merit is a casualty of gender politics, ask yourself the following question: if one has to run out of competent male candidates before filling senior posts with equally or more talented women, is it any wonder that gender parity has been so elusive in Canada?

Source: Quebec cabinet shuffle reflects momentum from Trudeau’s gender parity commitment: Hébert | Toronto Star

The niqab election: Commentary by Wherry and Hébert, past controversies

Aaron Wherry has the rights argument nailed down:

At the outset, it should be understood that the niqab debate, or at least this particular niqab debate, is not about the niqab. Whether you like or agree with the niqab is irrelevant. How you would feel about your daughter wearing the niqab is besides the point. You are entitled to your opinion and, given the fraught politics and cultural curiosity that surround the garment, there is a discussion worth having about the niqab, preferably including the voices of the women who wear it. But for the purposes of whether or not the niqab should be banned during the swearing of the citizenship oath by new Canadian citizens your opinion is of no applicability. Proponents of a ban might want to note that, according to public opinion surveys, a large majority of Canadians do indeed oppose the wearing of the niqab during the oath, but this is irrelevant unless you believe that the rights of individuals should be determined by majority rule, that the extent of minority rights are at the whim of the majority.

One’s rights are what is at issue here. And on that note it is fun to note that on Thursday morning, about nine hours before Stephen Harper made his declaration about a women’s sartorial freedom, the Conservatives announced that, if they continue to govern long enough to do so, they will have the federal government purchase John Diefenbaker’s childhood home and declare it a national historic site. Among the accomplishments the Conservatives recognized in explaining the reason for such an honour was Diefenbaker’s Bill of Rights, which acknowledged, among other rights, the freedom of religion. “It will give to Canadians the realization that wherever a Canadian may live, whatever his race, his religion or his colour,” Diefenbaker said in 1960, “the Parliament of Canada will be jealous of his rights and will not infringe upon those rights.”

Diefenbaker’s Bill of Rights was ultimately overtaken by Pierre Trudeau’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and it is those Charter rights that are relevant (even if a Federal Court judge actually overturned the government’s policy on the niqab because he found it contradicted the Citizenship Act). As Zunera Ishaq‘s lawyers argue in their factum for the Federal Court of Appeal, “The impugned Policy forces the Respondent into an impossible choice: violate a sincerely held religious belief in a significant and material manner, or give up obtaining the Canadian citizenship that she is otherwise entitled to. And it forces this choice on her for no good reason.”

There are no practical justifications for the ban. Confirming an individual’s identity can be done privately before the oath ceremony. Confirming that an individual has said the oath—the practical consideration that Jason Kenney first claimed when he introduced his ban—can be done by having an official stand within earshot.

Jason Kenney has asserted that, based on his consultations, the wearing of a niqab is not properly grounded in religious theology. But we should surely not wish for a country in which ministers of the crown are the arbiters of what constitutes a proper expression of faith. The Supreme Court has set out parameters for legally recognized religious belief (in Syndicat Northcrest v. Anselem and R. v. N.S), and if the case of the niqab ban ever has to be adjudicated on Charter grounds the sincerity of Ishaq’s belief could be tested, but I might suggest that a decent and confident country should give the benefit of the doubt to the claimant unless the welfare of others or the country is somehow threatened.

In Alberta v. Hutterian Brethren of Wilson Colony, the Supreme Court upheld a law that was being challenged on the grounds of religious freedom, but in that case the Court found a “pressing and substantial” goal—specifically, minimizing the potential for identity theft associated with driver’s licences. There is no such goal here. There is only symbolism.

Source: The niqab election – Macleans.ca

A timely reminder of Sikhs wearing turbans in the RCMP. Those who forget history …

The rhetoric over the niqab in the federal election campaign is proving reminiscent of another furor, more than 20 years ago, around the turban and its compatibility with Canadian values and the country’s dearest institutions.

What was allegedly at stake in that debate in the 1990s was the very fabric of the nation, and the sanctity and perhaps survival of an important historic symbol of the country — the Stetson of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Baltej Singh Dhillon, a young practising Sikh, wanted to become a Mountie. But his application to the force led to a kind of turban turmoil and an eventual intervention in Parliament by the Progressive Conservative government of the day.

The debate was featured on newscasts and dominated the public conversation. Political parties took positions on it, including the Reform Party, which deemed allowing the right to wear a turban unnecessary, and went so far as to pass a resolution at its 1989 convention banning such religious attire for the RCMP. At the time, Stephen Harper was a defeated Reform candidate and the party’s policy chief.

Dhillon is now a staff sergeant in the RCMP. The force refused to allow him to speak to CBC News about the turban debate. But in a video story produced by Telus Optik in B.C. and posted online, Dhillon recalled the tone of the debate.

“It was vicious. It was angry. It was emotional. It had all the elements of racism in there. It was a disappointment is what it was,” he said in the video.

“The fear was that we would lose the symbols that defined Canadians and defined our culture and defined who we were and our branding with the rest of the world.”

“And that was the greatest irony: That on one hand, we need to protect our symbols, and in the same breath, we need you to not protect your faith or your religion or your roots.”

Source: Niqab debate recalls RCMP turban furor of the ’90s – Politics – CBC News

Lastly, Chantal Hébert on some of the debates that diverse societies will continue to have and the struggle for balance.

While her conclusion is right, the question is how to have such a discussion in an open and respectful fashion, not used as wedge politics but the Conservatives and Bloc:

And yet, under the guise of this discussion, voters are getting a taste of one of the fundamental debates of the 21st century. It revolves around how the increasingly diverse communities that make up pluralistic societies accommodate their cultural and religious differences and it is not going away after Oct. 19.

Source: Niqab debate leading to wider discussion on religious, cultural accommodation: Hébert | Toronto Star

Proposed niqab ban could be thin edge of the wedge: Hébert

Chantal Hébert speculates on the possible invoking the notwithstanding clause in the event a new Conservative government is elected and, as promised, passes a niqab-banning law:

If the Supreme Court agrees to hear the government’s appeal of its latest reversal, it will not address whether there is an irreconcilable conflict between the charter-guaranteed freedom of religion and a veil ban because that is simply not at issue in this case.

As an aside, if the top court were ever asked to pronounce on whether a veil ban is constitutional, the Conservatives might not like the answer, even if it turned out to be positive.

If the principle of gender equality or the secular character of the Canadian state could sustain a policy that requires the removing of the Muslim veil in order to take a citizenship oath, would the same argument not apply to just about any religion-related vestment or accessory?

The main consequence of the Conservatives’ efforts to keep their technically flawed case alive by appealing it all the way to the Supreme Court has been to turn the matter into a wedge issue in the election campaign.

At is happens, both the Liberals and the New Democrats oppose a ban on veils on constitutional and legal grounds.

The Conservatives are not the only party that believes there are points to be scored on the niqab issue. Support for a veil ban runs nowhere higher than in Quebec, the long-standing locale of a debate over the accommodation of religious minorities.

In a campaign that has the Bloc Québécois clutching at straws to justify its ongoing presence in Parliament, leader Gilles Duceppe has seized on the fact that the NDP — its main opponent in the election — is offside with the majority of voters on the niqab.

Since Bloc-sponsored attack ads came out late last week, NDP campaign signs have been defaced, with the word Islam scrawled across the face of some local Montreal candidates.

This may be only the first half of a larger game to be played out — if the Conservatives secure a majority — after the Oct. 19 election.

Harper has promised, if he is re-elected, to pass the niqab ban into law. If he wanted to pre-emptively bulletproof such a law from an all-but-certain charter challenge, he could use the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution.

It allows governments to shelter a law from the dispositions of the charter for a renewable period of five years. Over its 30-plus years of existence, it has never been used at the federal level. Some Conservative strategists have been shopping for an issue consensual enough to allow their government to break what has become a political taboo.

Support for the niqab ban extends well outside the Conservative base. It enjoys the backing of many progressive Canadians, including more than a few feminists. It would be tailor-made for that purpose.

Those same strategists believe that once the ice is broken, the use of the notwithstanding clause to suspend the fundamental freedoms that get in the way of the government’s legislative ambitions could eventually become as banal as the now-routine production of catch-all budget bills.

From medically assisted suicide to life imprisonment without parole and including supervised injection sites for drug addicts, the list of issues on which the Conservatives could find it convenient to free themselves of an inconvenient charter of rights is an extensive one.