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As white supremacists march in the streets in the US, we can’t feel too smug here. Racism is, sadly, alive and well right in our home province, as the Liberal government chooses this moment to revive the debate about religious headgear.

Bill 62, the so-called anti-niqab bill, is being touted by the Liberals as a “compromise” that will allow for “social peace” — just a code word for a majority curtailing the rights of minorities … because any visual evidence of people different from them offends their fragile sensibilities so much that they can’t possibly survive. Or something. It’s akin to suggesting that the way to stamp out sexual assault is by telling women not to wear short skirts. It blames the victim of racism instead of the perpetrator. It assumes that the rights of a majority to not see something that offends them is more important than the rights of a minority to dress or practice their religion as they choose.

And, worst of all, Couillard’s approach is actually the most moderate of the three major parties, with both the PQ and the CAQ calling for even more stringent restrictions on religious headgear. It’s as if we’ve learned nothing from the mosque shooting in Quebec City earlier this year, from the Charter of Values debacle, or from what’s currently happening in the US and elsewhere.

Don Macpherson gets it exactly right in this case:

Bill 62 stigmatizes the tiny number of Muslim women in Quebec who wear facial veils. It encourages their persecution, like the harassment of women wearing Muslim head scarves during the debate on the former Parti Québécois government’s ill-fated “charter of values.”

It would enshrine in legislation the hypocrisy of Quebec’s “Catho-laïcité,” or Catho-secularism. One of Vallée’s amendments pretends that Quebec’s public institutions are founded on the separation of church and state, while the bill would preserve the crucifix placed in the Assembly to symbolize an alliance between the two.

The government pretends that the ban on face coverings in general does not discriminate on religious grounds. But its intent is given away by the fact that the ban is contained in a bill to restrict religious accommodations.

It’s a nasty little secret of politics that targeting vulnerable minorities gets candidates elected. Sadly that isn’t so much of a secret anymore, in the era of Trump. But we have our own demons to grapple with here.

It’s telling that so many quasi-Liberal, left-leaning people in Quebec support this nonsense. They believe, falsely, that because forced religion is bad, the answer to it is forced secularism. They want to hide any visual evidence of differences, in order to protect their “patrimoine”, or perceived superiority over everyone else. There’s honestly not much difference between the pro-laicite crowd and the neo-Nazis people marching in Charlottesville this week… except at least the latter are honest about their racist beliefs.

Bill 62 is a bad bill, scapegoating religious minorities in order to pacify racists. It should not become law. Call your MNA.


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.