Quebec’s state secularism: Where does it stop?

cross national assembly

Yesterday, Le Journal de Montreal revealed that Pauline Marois’ Parti Québécois government allegedly plans to outlaw religious clothing, symbols and jewelry in all Quebec public spaces later this fall. The unconfirmed proposal would be inserted into the Québécois Charter of Quebec Values and ban civil servants from wearing hijabs, burkas, turbans, kippas, crucifixes and other religious attire. It would also be imposed in courts, police stations, hospitals, government offices and even publicly funded institutions such as daycare.

pauline marois pointing

The rules would not apply to the crucifix hanging in Quebec’s National Assembly as it represents an “icon of Quebec history.” However, any “ostentatious crucifix” displayed around the necks of public servants would not be allowed.

Unlike the Quebec Soccer Federation’s failed attempt to pass a turban ban in July, there is no citation of religious clothing endangering oneself or others. Indeed, a dress code deemed appropriate for Franco-Canadian tastes by the PQ would appear draconian compared to the rest of Canada where religious accommodation has empowered Sikhs to wear turbans, ceremonial daggers in the RCMP and Muslim teachers to wear hijabs in classrooms.

Quebec’s minorities, who already find employment and career advancement hard enough as it is, are outraged. Some are even comparing Marois to Vladimir Putin for his restriction on the LGBT community. Meanwhile, some Jewish-Quebecers who were witness to the Nuremberg Laws in 1935 Nazi Germany have alluded to parallels between them and these restrictions.

The ban would target, discourage and exclude certain members of society from participating in Quebec public life. In essence, it would create a set of second-class citizens.

Such a ban would send a chilling message to those that do not fit a mold of Quebec identity. Minorities must conceal their personal identity, lifestyle and beliefs.

Quebec should look to its elder brother, France, for lessons in excessive secularism. France’s ban of religious iconography disenfranchised and created sous-bois ghettos. This has incited employment discrimination, police racial profiling, arbitrary stop-and-frisks and bloody riots in Paris.

turban soccer

If passed, the PQ proposal would incite not only racism and religious intolerance but also reinforce colonialism. For example, Aboriginal spiritual feathers invoke the spirits of ancestors and the earth, they are symbols of respect of their heritage and nature. Chinese jade pendants channel Feng Shui, providing healing and purification. While neither is religious in the traditional sense, both celebrate cultural veneration and could fall under this ban.

What about products with religious slogans and retailer philosophy, like Lululemon’s  yogi philosophy? Would they fall under the ban as well?

It’s unlikely this plan would pass the Charter test at the Supreme Court of Canada, so it may be a stillborn proposal. One possible rationale for such a stunt is that it may distract from the PQ government’s economic mismanagement while bolstering support from their base.

It is likely Marois hopes this proposal will rally sovereigntist hardliners (both secular and Christian) for the next provincial election with a public face portraying an ideal “pure laine” Quebec society, rather than its multicultural/lingual reality.

This nationalist myth ultimately breaks down when cracks develop in the facade until it collapses.

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