Barbaric Cultural Practices and the ugly side of wedge politics

10.02.15

This goes beyond the pale: The Tories have announced that they want to create an RCMP Hotline to report “barbaric cultural practices”:

The new pledge follows a string of opinion polls showing that the incumbent party’s hard line against Muslim headwear – refusing to permit a new immigrant the right to wear a veil during a ceremony affirming their citizenship – has helped lift it from third to first place in the drawn-out election campaign.

“We need to stand up for our values,” said immigration minister Chris Alexander, as he announced the new initiative on Friday. “We need to do that in citizenship ceremonies. We need to do that to protect women and girls from forced marriage and other barbaric practices.”

If this sounds disturbingly like McCarthyism, that’s because it is. As Neil Macdonald explains, it is what happens when politicians descend into the lowest form of politics: Scapegoating and using xenophobia for votes:

Just out of curiosity, I called the RCMP’s media relations department to ask about this new task force and what sort of barbaric cultural practices would merit a call to the Mounties.

The officer who answered said that if, say, an honour killing is taking place next door, it’d be best to dial 911 and tell the local police.

Otherwise, the force said in an email about 20 minutes later: “It would be inappropriate for the RCMP to comment on a political announcement.”

“A political announcement.” What a dry, refreshing description.

Playing politics with people’s rights to freedom of religion and freedom of expression is a dangerous game. You don’t have to wear a niqab to understand this. You don’t even have to approve of those who do. But you do have to recognize that there’s a difference between your freedom to disapprove of something, and passing a law banning it. This is the same discussion we had in Quebec around the Charter of Values, and for the same reason: What it comes down to is that some people are fearful of the “other” — and politicians have figured out they can play up this fear for votes.

We already have laws against domestic violence, torture, coercion, assault and murder. The RCMP, as well as local and provincial police forces, already have a mandate to investigate in those cases.

But a tip line to report on your neighbours for practices that you may find strange or distasteful? That’s not my Canada.

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