As Quebec tables religious symbol ban, the rest of Canada should stay zen

Bit of an odd piece by Konrad Yakabuski. Yes, all debates have nuances, yes, historical contexts are important, but Bill 62 is problematic on so many counts.

The other aspect I have always found interesting is just how much of a colony Canada appears to be when it imports these debates from Europe, whether critiques of multiculturalism without acknowledging Canada’s aims at integration and participation of much of the language around laicité from France:

The most popular movie in France this year is a comedy about a Roman Catholic couple with four daughters, each of whom marries a member of a religious or racial minority. When the daughters announce they and their husbands are leaving France – for Algeria, Israel, China and India – their parents wonder if they are being punished by God.

The film’s French title, Qu’est-ce qu’on a encore fait au Bon Dieu?, roughly means: What did we do to deserve this? It is the top-grossing film of 2019 in France, drawing twice as many moviegoers as any Hollywood movie. It has also been doing a brisk box office in Quebec, and sparking plenty of discussion about the state of la mère patrie, as France is known.

The film’s success may lie in the fact that it allows members of the white Catholic French majority to laugh at the prejudices they hold toward newcomers, rather than feeling ashamed of them. The French aren’t racist. They’re just nostalgic for a simpler time when they didn’t have to deal with interracial marriage, Muslim rites or Afghan refugees. But once they get used to them, they’ll come around and everyone will get along famously. Cue the happy ending.

Of course, that day hasn’t yet arrived in France. The country remains deeply divided over how to integrate its fast-growing Muslim population, which continues to feel excluded from mainstream French society. Anti-Semitism has been rising again, prompting thousands of French Jews to leave their country, mostly for Israel, the United States and Canada.

To an outsider, it may seem obvious that the French approach to solving the challenges raised by multiculturalism has been a failure. Instead of fostering integration or promoting what the French call le vivre ensemble (“living together”), bans on the Islamic headscarf in public schools and the burka in public spaces have only served to further stigmatize Muslims.

Yet, I have spent enough time in France to know that plenty of its leading thinkers, few of whom could be accused of racism, support such bans in the name of state secularism. No one, much less any foreigner, is going to persuade them otherwise. Even French President Emmanuel Macron, who is undeniably progressive on most issues involving immigration and multiculturalism, would not dream of repealing these measures.

For better or worse, the French approach to secularism has coloured the political debate over religious accommodation in Quebec. As in France, many Quebec intellectuals believe that any society that declares secularism to be a fundamental value must prohibit religious symbols in public institutions. For many, freedom from religion is as important as freedom of religion.

So, while many commentators in English Canada depict Quebec’s seemingly endless debate over religious accommodation as the work of opportunistic politicians seeking to exploit the cultural insecurities of some francophone Quebeckers, such characterizations fail to capture the complexity of the debate and only contribute to a polarization of opinions on the matter.

Make no mistake, as Premier François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec government prepares to table legislation to ban state employees in a position of authority (including teachers) from wearing ostentatious religious symbols, politics is its principal motivation. The CAQ’s conservative and nationalist base is not concerned so much about secularism – it supports maintaining the crucifix in the legislature – as it is with the impact Muslim newcomers are having on the face and customs of their province. Mr. Legault campaigned on a promise to do something about it, even if it means going down the dangerous path of trampling on individual rights in the name of a white francophone majority that seeks to assert its supposed collective right to live in a secularist society.

The CAQ government may be making a fateful mistake by proceeding with a discriminatory and patently unconstitutional legislation. At the very least, it is displaying crass insensitivity in tabling its religious-symbol ban in the wake of the massacre of 50 Muslims at mosques in New Zealand, which revived the pain of the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting.

Yet, those outside the province should refrain from making blanket statements or condemnations. The debate within Quebec is far more nuanced than the rest of Canada seems to understand. Charging racism is the lazy way to go. It perpetuates a situation that only serves the interests of those who like to stir up polemics, rather than foster reconciliation.

As jurist Rim Gtari and sociology professor Rachad Antonius wrote this week in Le Devoir, invoking the recent conviction of an Iranian lawyer who defended women who went veil-less in public: “One cannot reduce the hijab to a simple piece of cloth, the wearing of which is a sign of piety and its interdiction a sign of racism. The historical context removes this restriction from the domain of the violation of rights or from the logic of stereotypes tied to racism.”

Source: As Quebec tables religious symbol ban, the rest of Canada should stay zen

Opinion: Scorn for multiculturalism in Quebec yields troubling results

Quebec human rights lawyer Pearl Eliadis:

Interculturalism starts from the premise of the de facto precedence of Quebec’s majority culture over others. That practical reality was not supposed to have morphed into legal precedence, nor to have operated in a way that perpetuates the privileges of that majority. However there are troubling indications that it has done just that.

Other rights have been subordinated, including racial and religious equality. This is in part the result of Quebec’s brand of laïcité-lite that has imposed religious neutrality on non-majoritarian faiths and individuals as well as on the state. Equality and reasonable accommodation for minorities have become battlegrounds in the fight for “Quebec values.” The Supreme Court keeps having to intervene, as it did in the Multani decision in 2006 (to permit an observant Sikh boy to wear a sewn-in, concealed kirpan to school) and in several other cases after that.

In 2011, the National Assembly barred Sikhs from its precincts after having invited them to participate in a debate on reasonable accommodation. In 2013, there was the PQ’s nativist Charter of Values, Bill 60, built squarely on the foundations of Quebec values and interculturalism.

In 2015, the Quebec Liberals introduced Bill 62. It is nowhere as troubling as the Charter of Values, but it does weaken the flexibility of the public sector in accommodating religious minorities. Both Quebec’s human rights commission and the Quebec Bar Association have objected to several aspects of the bill.

As for the practical effect of protecting the “de facto precedence” of the majority, minorities are dealt with as satellite communities revolving around the “host society” until they are absorbed, effectively assimilated, and no longer seen as threats. Nowhere is the impact of this approach clearer than in the relatively poor employment prospects of immigrants in Quebec and, of course, in the low representation of minorities among the senior ranks of the Quebec public service. The issue is systemic and transcends party loyalties, and yet we continue to be forced to ask questions for which the answers are, depressingly, well known. How many senior appointments among Quebec’s public institutions, agencies and commissions are from racialized or ethnic minority backgrounds? How many are anglophones or allophones?

When the news about Thermitus [candidacy for the presidency of Quebec’s human rights commission] became public, the PQ quickly pivoted, perhaps mindful of the appalling optics, and said it would support the appointment. That is good news, even if it’s not yet clear whether Thermitus will get the job. But the broader issue of the rejection of multiculturalism in Quebec reminded me of something that Zadie Smith, the British-born novelist, said in November while accepting a literary prize: “The people who ask me about the ‘failure of multiculturalism’ mean to suggest that not only has a political ideology failed but that human beings themselves have changed and are now fundamentally incapable of living peacefully together despite their many differences.” That is not an outcome any of us should be prepared to accept.

Source: Opinion: Scorn for multiculturalism in Quebec yields troubling results | Montreal Gazette