The Quebec elections are over and we are about to have a new government. People fed up with Philippe Couillard and wary of the sovereigntist messages of Québec Solidaire and the Parti Québécois took their votes elsewhere, putting François Legault and his party, Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ), in office.

Many people are scared, and they have every reason to be. The CAQ ran on an aggressively secularist, anti-immigration, right-wing nationalist (within Canada) platform.

The day after the election, people’s worst fears were confirmed when Legault announced that he would use the Canadian constitution’s Notwithstanding Clause to bar civil servants from wearing religious symbols. To use a popular Quebecois expression, ça commence ben mal (we’re off to a bad start).

For all those in despair, I want to give reasons to hope. This article will look at a couple of the CAQ’s more controversial policies, the legality of them, and the ways we can fight back within the system.

Immigration

One of François Legault’s most controversial statements during the election was that he would expel any immigrants Quebec that failed to pass a French and “Quebec Values” test within three years of their arrival.

Here’s the thing: Quebec cannot legally do that.

The decision on whether or not to expel immigrants is federal jurisdiction. This is not to say that Quebec has no discretion in matters of immigration. One of the ways people can immigrate to Canada is via Quebec’s immigration programs such as Quebec Skilled Worker, Quebec Investor, or Quebec Experience, all of which have limits set by the provincial government on how many people they are willing to accept.

These programs do not guarantee you permanent residence (PR). Once you have a Quebec certificate via one of these programs, you can apply for permanent residence.

The application for PR will be assessed by a federal Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) officer and they get the final say as to whether or not you get permanent residency, not Quebec. It is also the CIC that has sole jurisdiction to issue expulsion orders.

Notwithstanding Clause

As previously stated, François Legault announced on Tuesday that he would be willing to invoke the Notwithstanding Clause to ban government employees from wearing religious symbols. In Quebec, that would apply to everyone from teachers to doctors to public transit workers, cops, and civil servants.

It should be said that if the new government is truly committed to secularism, they need to take down all the crosses in public buildings, a gruelling and expensive task given Quebec’s history with the Catholic Church. It must also be said that their rules should include forbidding anyone in civil service from wearing a cross or crucifix.

Fortunately for people whose faith dictates the wearing of visible symbols, the Notwithstanding Clause is not the magical failsafe Islamaphobes and anti-Semites seem to think it is and it will not allow a government to do what it wants indefinitely.

The Notwithstanding Clause is Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It says:

“Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.”

Section 2 of the Charter deals with freedom of religion, freedom of expression and the press, and freedom of association and peaceful assembly. Sections 7 to 15 deal with such rights as “life, liberty, and security of the person” and protection from arbitrary detention, search and seizures, and other rights in criminal and penal proceedings.

Most importantly in this case, article 15 entrenches the right to equality before and under the law “without discrimination and in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.”

The Notwithstanding Clause allows governments to keep a law in place that violates these rights provided they expressly declare that the legislation in question applies notwithstanding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This declaration by a government would not apply indefinitely. According to paragraph three of the Clause, said declaration “will cease to have effect five years after it comes into force or such earlier date as may be specified in the declaration.”

There is good reason for this entrenched delay.

The Notwithstanding Clause is generally applied by provincial governments in the face of the courts striking down controversial legislation on constitutional grounds. The five-year delay allows said governments to rework the law so it conforms with the Charter in cases where the courts do not give them such a delay.

Quebec, for example, used the Clause to keep Bill 101 in place after the Supreme Court struck it down, using the five years to rewrite the law to fit the Charter. Once the five years is up, the government can choose to re-enact a declaration as per the Clause and the delay restarts.

That said, there is a catch, because guess what else happens every four to five years? Elections.

Using the Notwithstanding Clause is a hugely unpopular move. Canadians have embraced The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a way of using the courts to protect them from, for example, xenophobic laws enacted by governments.

A legal challenge to Bill 62, the law enacted by the Liberals barring the wearing of religious symbols by government employees and people using government services, is currently underway and will likely be struck down by the courts. The CAQ can use the Notwithstanding Clause to keep the law in place if they wish, but it might cost them a second term.

The CAQ officially take office once Quebec’s Lieutenant Governor, J. Michel Doyon swears them in and names François Legault as our Premier. Many of us are scared and angry so let’s turn this anger into action and use our power as the people to curb their worst ideas.

* Featured image of François Legault on election night via YouTube

It’s one of those headlines that sounds great: “Anglos, it’s time to get over the 1995 Quebec referendum.” Yes, it is. Glad The Montreal Gazette finally realized it.

However, the paper’s Facebook plug of the op-ed revealed what guest opinion writer Lise Ravary only got to at the end of her piece. That fear of another Quebec referendum was “a bad reason to spurn Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ)” this election.

Fine, sure, it’s not. By the same token, fear of a referendum is not a good reason to spurn Québec Solidaire either. But there are several good reasons not to vote CAQ this year or any year.

They’re not an alternative to Quebec’s two natural governing parties, the Liberals (PLQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ). They’re the same, only meaner.

The PQ gave us the Charter of Quebec Values and lost, in large part, because of it. The PLQ, who had campaigned against the Charter, brought in the absurd Bill C-62, turning bus drivers and librarians into the Niqab police.

Not to be outdone, the CAQ is proposing that all prospective immigrants to Quebec have to pass a values test. Women who wear the Niqab would have to remove it while taking the test.

While a “values test” is, in and of itself, a huge red flag to anyone who believes in cultural diversity, tacking on the bit about the Niqab is a pander to the basest instincts of the far right. Sure, only 50-100 women in Quebec wear the Niqab out of a population of over eight million, but François Legault is on the case and will make sure another 10 or 20 don’t sneak in!

The non-cultural aspects of the CAQ policy doesn’t differ much from the status quo pro-corporate stance of their main rivals, which is probably why The Gazette has no problem easing the fears of Anglos considering them as an alternative. They’ve been leading in the overall polls, too, since last November.

For years, I have been waiting for the so-called “national question” not to be a factor in a Quebec election, especially for the Montreal Anglo community, my community. I’ve also been waiting for a break in the PLQ/PQ cycle of dominance that has lasted over 50 years.

But not like this.

The CAQ isn’t change. They’re more of the same with a different branding, one tweaked for the far right. They’re the bigots Anglos, most Anglos, don’t have to be afraid of.

Yes, we should get over the 1995 Referendum, but no, electoral xenophobes should not benefit.

Four years after the Parti Québecois’ colossal defeat over their quietly racist but aggressively secular Charter of Values, and less than a year after a man entered a mosque in Ste Foy, Quebec and opened fire, the government we elected to spite them is bringing up a debate no one wanted to hear. Last week, the Quebec Liberals under Premier Philippe Couillard passed Bill 62, “An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality” and, in particular, to provide a framework for requests for accommodations or religious grounds in certain bodies.

It should be said right off the bat that this law is clearly a political ploy. The Couillard government is up for re-election in 2018. With scandal after scandal rocking his administration, he’s clearly given up on his base and is trying to attract the most secularist racist members of Quebec society who would otherwise vote for the Parti Quebecois.

It is also clear that it is meant to discriminate against non-Christians in Quebec. The law acknowledges Quebec’s history, but the decision to leave the cross up in the National Assembly means that their version of history leaves out the Jews, Muslims, and other groups that have made the province what it is today.

With all the talk about how this law will hurt people, we need to look at what it actually says.

The law applies to all employees of government departments, members of the Quebec public service, city employees with the exception of those governed by the Cree and Naskapi, public transit authorities, school boards, universities, and vocational colleges, peace officers, doctors, midwives, dentists, and anyone else appointed by the government. The employees of childcare centers and government-subsidized daycare centers are also subject to the new rules. Anyone seeking services from these bodies is also subject to the new law.

That means that contrary to the belief that the law will only affect public transport employees and people who work in government offices, teachers at all levels as well as doctors, dentists, and midwives will be subject to this law, as well as anyone who benefits from their help i.e. students, people who ride the bus or metro, and even people in need of medical care.

The law’s mantra is one of State religious neutrality, as the words “religious neutrality” are repeated constantly throughout its text. It requires that all employees subject to this law keep their faces uncovered in the execution of their duties. It also requires that anyone seeking services from employees bound by this law have their faces uncovered in order to receive them.

As only some Muslim women are required by their faith to keep their faces covered in public, the law is clearly written to prejudice them. However, as the law is pretty unclear. People with colds or flus who generously choose to cover their faces in public in order to avoid spreading illness could also find themselves denied services. The government is scheduled to put out a regulation clarifying certain aspects of the law in the near future.

Bill 62 does have some exceptions written into it. People who provide spiritual care and guidance in universities, vocational schools, and correctional facilities are exempt. Health professionals will not be barred from refusing to provide certain medical services that conflict with their spiritual beliefs. For everyone else, there is a process by which you can apply for accommodation on religious grounds, but it is a limited and complicated one.

Applications for accommodations must be based on the right to freedom from discrimination provision in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Requests for accommodation will be handled primarily by the justice minister, who has to decide the request on the following grounds:

  • “The request is serious”
  • The accommodation requested is consistent with notions of gender equality, specifically that between women and men
  • The request is “consistent with the principle of State religious neutrality”
  • The accommodation is “reasonable and does not place undue hardship” on the state and the person seeking it has already tried to find another solution

Where the law would force someone to be absent from work, additional criteria must be taken into account:

  • The frequency and duration of the absences on religious grounds
  • The size of the body the person works for and the “interchangeability” of its workforce – in other words, if the person can easily be replaced, they will likely not be accommodated
  • The consequences of the person’s absences
  • The possibility of a modified work schedule or use of bankable hours and vacation days
  • Fairness regarding other personnel in said government body

More rules apply where the law affects school attendance. The criteria in this case include how a refusal to accommodate will affect compulsory school attendance, the schools’ basic mission to impart knowledge “in keeping with the principle of equal opportunity” and the ability of the school to provide the educational services required by law.

The arguments in favor of Bill 62 are twofold.

Couillard has publicly said that he should be able to see a person’s face when dealing with them, a remark that is not only culturally insensitive, but also rules out any exchanges done by phone or email.

The other argument is one of benevolent sexism masquerading as feminism, specifically that the law will somehow save women from oppressive religious practices. This presumes that women who wear a niqab are doing so because someone coerced them to, or they simply don’t know better. It’s an argument that infantilizes the women by making the presumption that they are not mature enough to make their own decisions about how to publicly express their faith.

This law does not save anyone. It robs them of their sense of agency. If a woman can only leave her house with her face covered and she is welcome at government funded institutions as such, she may feel comfortable going to a public library and grabbing a book on feminism. She may also be comfortable going to a sports center to take a self-defense class.

The law clearly violates the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms rules against religious discrimination and the freedom of religion and equality rights of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The moment this law comes into effect there is sure to be a constitutional challenge to it.

Let’s take comfort in that.

* Featured illustration by Samantha Gold

On Friday morning, transit users stood at stops along the 80 du Parc South route wearing surgical masks and other face coverings to protest recently passed amendments to C-62. One Montreal bus driver honked his horn and covered his face in solidarity and now faces disciplinary actions from the STM (Société de transport de Montréal, the Montreal transit commission) as a result.

On Wednesday, the National Assembly voted for changes to the so-called “religious neutrality of the state” law which now require all those receiving provincial or municipal government services such as riding on public transit to do so with their faces uncovered. Basically, no niqabs on the bus.

The union representing Montreal transit workers say they don’t want their members to be stuck enforcing this law. They will be defending the driver at his hearing.

Meanwhile the STM says it is still “evaluating” the new rules but didn’t take that long to evaluate whether or not to try and punish the driver. He may get a reprimand or be suspended depending on factors like his work history.

The STM feels he made them look bad. If optics is what they’re concerned with, then they really aren’t looking at the full picture.

Going after a driver for showing solidarity with both a targeted minority and those transit users protesting the law targeting them looks real bad, especially when you consider that this driver will be among those tasked with enforcing that law. Bus drivers didn’t sign up to enforce the xenophobic will of the state.

Not taking a stand against C-62, something those you serve, Montrealers, don’t want, also looks real bad. The STM should have taken a cue from its union and made a statement against this unfair and bigoted legislation, at the very least from the angle that it puts them in a position that goes well beyond their mandate.

Of course, this is the same organization that censured Jacques the Singing Bus Driver of 165 fame and the guy who used to announce the stops on the 80 with a bit of location info (“St-Viateur, la rue des bagels”). While passengers seemed to enjoy a driver having a good time at work, STM killjoys shut them down.

I still don’t agree with those decisions, but at least I understand the mentality behind them. This time, though, the STM’s stance is indefensible.

If the police can wear camo pants for years because of a salary negotiation, then one bus driver has every right to honk his horn and cover his mouth for a moment to take a symbolic stand against state bigotry that may soon directly affect his job.

If more bus drivers (maybe the union as a whole) staged protests like this, which, by the way, don’t disrupt transit service one bit, it would send a powerful message. If the STM backed them, the organization would be on the right side of history.

The women who wear niqabs or burqas are the real potential victims of C-62, but it looks like the first casualty may be a Montreal bus driver showing solidarity.

Just when you thought you had heard the last of xenophobia and hate driving mainstream Quebec politics, they’re back! Or rather, they never left.

I’m well aware that the vicious undercurrent of bigotry in Quebec has only gotten bolder in the past year. There was the attack on the Mosque in Ste-Foy, then there was that Front National copycat poster that went up during the Gouin by-election. Just last week, local members of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant group La Meute were spotted marching with neo-Nazis and the Klan in Charlotteville and now a former organizer of the xenophobic group PEDIGA is looking to start a far-right political party.

When it comes to major Quebec political parties (ones that actually have a chance of being elected), though, it really looked like we were finally beyond hate and fearmongering for votes. After all, electoral Islamophobia had failed twice at the ballot box: there was the electoral disaster the Charter of Quebec Values brought to the PQ and the Bloc’s failed attempt to use Harper’s opposition to the niqab as a wedge issue – sure, it did knock down the NDP, but it helped Justin Trudeau sail to a majority government.

While it’s likely the PQ under the leadership of Charter architect Jean-François Lisée may try a re-branded version of the failed legislation come election time, that would really be an act of desperation. It looks, though, like the party that won a majority in 2014 largely by opposing Pauline Marois on the Charter now plans to one-up her with much more restrictive bigoted legislation.

The Charter on Steroids

In 2015, Philippe Couillard’s Liberals tabled Bill 62, the so-called “religious neutrality bill” which banned people providing government services and those receiving them from covering their faces. It didn’t go as far as the PQ’s Charter in that it focused on one religious symbol, the Niqab or Burqa, and had a limited scope in its application.

That scope may be getting wider if the Liberals have their way. Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée wants it to apply to municipalities, metropolitan communities, the National Assembly and public transit organizations and proposed amendments to the bill last Tuesday to make that a reality.

One of the places the Liberals want to ban the burqa (image: Jason C. McLean)

The most jarring aspect is, of course, extending it to public transit. Think about that for a moment:

Not only is being asked to remove a face covering for the duration of a trip on the bus or metro a humiliating experience, it is also something that may very well deny access to public transit to people who need it. Forcing someone to choose between their faith and an essential service that many who live in a city need is just plain wrong.

It is discrimination that serves no valid purpose whatsoever, unless you count getting votes from clueless bigots as a valid purpose.

I have rode on the metro with a woman in a burqa in the next seat several times. It didn’t bother me in the slightest. Just fellow passengers dressed differently than I was. There are frequently people on my commute wearing various religious garb and it is just a part of life here in Montreal. I’m more concerned about the creeps and assholes whose faces are uncovered along with their shitty demeanor.

But, of course, this legislation isn’t designed to appeal to me or my fellow Montrealers. It’s designed to get votes from people in rural ridings, many of whom have never rode public transit with someone wearing a hijab, never mind a burqa, in their lives. Them and a handful of suburbanites and maybe a few big city bigots whose intolerance supersedes their daily experience.

While I rarely give props to Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, on this one I have to. He has announced plans to use the city’s status as a metropolis to not implement the amendments if they pass. I’m pretty sure Projet Montreal would do the same if they were in power.

Regis Labeaume’s False Equivalence

The Mayor of Quebec City, however, seems perfectly content fanning the flames of intolerance.

While Régis Labeaume did say that La Meute was not welcome back to the city he governs after last weekend’s protest, he extended the same sentiments to those who showed up to oppose the hate group’s public display of bigotry and intolerance.

La Meute marching in Quebec City (image: CBC)

If you think that sounds a little too close to a certain Nazi-sympathizing American politician’s much maligned comment about hate and violence existing on “all sides” in Charlottesville, you’re not alone. Jaggi Singh was in Quebec as a participant, not an organizer, but that didn’t stop Labeaume from using “la gang à Singh” as a descriptor for those protesting La Meute.

Singh responded in a Facebook statement which has since been republished by several media outlets. Here’s a excerpt:

“Mayor Labeaume, like Donald Trump, is claiming equivalency between anti-racists — and the varied tactics and strategies we use — and the racist far-right. His false equivalency, like Donald Trump’s after Charlottesville, is absurd. With his comments today, Mayor Labeaume is essentially pandering to racists in Quebec City, repeating a disgusting tactic he has used since he’s been a public figure.

More generally, Mayor Labeaume is replicating the rhetoric of the racist far-right by essentially telling people to “go back to where you came from”. This is the main talking point of far-right anti-immigrant groups, including the racists of La Meute, the Storm Alliance, and Soldiers of Odin, all of whom have a strong presence in Mayor Labeaume’s Quebec City.”

It’s not just a moral false equivalence, though, but a numerical one as well. The counter-protesters clearly outnumbered the La Meute gang, who hid in a parking garage for a good portion of the protest protected by police.

That didn’t stop Labeaume from saying that La Meute had won the popularity contest. Putting aside for a minute the fact that they clearly didn’t, to frame a conflict between hatemongers and those opposed to racism and fascism as a popularity contest shows a clear lack of…oh screw it, the guy’s a grade-A asshole Trump-wannabe who at best panders to racists and doesn’t care about it and at worst is one himself.

Quebec bigots, for the most part, may not be so obvious as to carry around swastika flags like their American counterparts, but they are just as hate-filled and virulent and their mainstream political apologists and supporters like Couillard, Lisée and Labeaume are all too happy to pander for their votes.

La plus ca change…

President Trump. President Donald Trump. Yes, a few months from now that will be an actual thing people say. For now, he’s President Elect, but sadly, he is no longer a joke and he never should have been. We need to keep fighting Trump.

The over-the-top reality star will soon be Commander-in-Chief of the largest military in the world. Islamophobia, racism and misogyny have been part of American politics for a while, but they just went uber-mainstream with Trump’s win a little over a week ago.

What’s now frighteningly apparent is that his alt-right (really a fancy way to say white nationalists with computer skills) base, emboldened by his win, are voicing their bigotry and hatred and scaring the crap out of immigrants, visible minorities and anyone that doesn’t fit into their white supremacist, misogynistic and anti-Semetic worldview.

Swastikas are showing up all over the US, people are being attacked, middle schoolers are even chanting “build that wall” and making school a frightening place for some of their classmates. Buzzfeed has even put together a tracker of racist incidents in the US since the Trump victory.

While Trump did tell his supporters to stop it with their racist attacks and graffiti, his early staff choices send the opposite message. He just appointed Steve Bannon, who ran Breitbart “News” as CEO until joining the Trump campaign, his top policy adviser. Bannon had proudly declared Breitbart to be a “platform for the alt-right” and oversaw the publication of articles with incredibly nasty headlines.

Just a taste of the nastiness (image: gizmodo.com)
Just a taste of the nastiness (image: gizmodo.com)

There is also now word that Trump will, in fact, be creating a Muslim Registry. One of his supporters even cited American internment of citizens of Japanese origin as precedent.

Throw in promises to break US climate agreements and the prospect of a second Supreme Court pick after he fills Scalia’s seat and you get a picture that is terrifying for people of colour, the LGBT community, women and the planet.

How Did We Get Here?

President Trump is bad news, that much is clear. But why is this now a reality? It’s because no one took his candidacy seriously. Comics thought him running would produce gold for them, but no worries, because, of course he wouldn’t win. Pundits, same thing. Even I didn’t take him seriously at first.

But we’re not the only ones. The establishment of the Democratic Party clearly didn’t consider Trump as a serious threat, either, despite their public rhetoric. They even tried to push both him and Ted Cruz to the top of the GOP heap thinking they would be easier candidates to beat than Jeb Bush.

clinton-sanders

It’s true that Trump’s core support came from xenophobic racist misogynists and they’re now the ones strutting and scaring the shit out of everyone,  but this “basket of deplorables” weren’t the only ones who voted for him. If they were, the electoral map would have looked quite different. The bigots are still a minority.

It’s white working class voters in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and now Michigan that tipped the balance this time around. It’s not that their privilege blinded them to what a Trump Presidency could mean, it’s simply that Trump’s obvious bigotry meant less to them than the prospect of losing jobs due to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) did. Some lifelong rust belt Democrats who voted Obama twice and supported Bernie in the Primaries switched to Trump in the General.

A truly selfish act, to be sure, and an ultimately counterproductive one. Stopping the TPP is probably the first campaign promise Trump will break.

There was also a real feeling of dissatisfaction with the political establishment which Trump, posing as a populist, was able to tap into. If the choice had been between a right-wing, xenophobic pseudo-populist and a real left-wing populist like Bernie Sanders, Sanders would have easily won.

This election also proved that standard political tactics like a good ground game and mainstream media support are now less important than huge rallies and a solid social media strategy. Trump ran an unconventional campaign, so did Sanders. Clinton played it business as usual and lost.

What Needs to Happen Now in the Democratic Party

It’s all water under the bridge, now, but that water is what people need for drinking and bathing, so we can’t ignore how we got here and Democrats can’t ignore the mistakes they made. If they do, they are bound to repeat them.

The party establishment didn’t just lose. They lost to a third-rate PT Barnum who only ran to get a better TV deal with NBC. They lost to a man who admitted to being sexual predator during a national radio interview and who has bragged on tape about sexual assault. They lost to their dream opponent. They lost to Donald Fucking Trump.

If that’s not the impetus Democrats need to show their leadership the door, I don’t know what is. Now is the time to replace everyone at the top who pushed for Clinton over Sanders in the Primaries. Progressives need to take over the Democratic Party…soon!

If there is pushback, and there will be, fight it. If the pushback from the DNC establishment succeeds, it might be time to think about a new party. Even as President, Trump may end up destroying the Republican Party and there could be room for a new party in the two-party system.

What Needs to Happen Now Outside of the Echo Chamber

I had thought, as did many, that if he won, protests against Trump would start on day one of his Presidency. I was wrong. They started less than 24 hours after he won the Electoral College vote and became the President Elect.

From mass marches in New York City, Chicago and around the country to high school students walking out of class, people are voicing their displeasure with an impending Trump Presidency and what it will mean for them and their communities. This needs to continue.

Anti-Trump Protest NYC (image CBS)
Anti-Trump Protest NYC (image CBS)

No, the whole “just accept the election results” line or the “give him a chance” attitude don’t fly in this case. First, he’s already shown us by appointing Bannon that he blew his chance to change the tone to a more President of all Americans one. Second, protesting the government, or even an incoming government is never wrong, in fact, it’s a right.

If Clinton had won and stepped too far to the right with her picks, I would expect progressives, even those who voted for her, to be challenging her every step of the way. Now with Trump living up to the worst nightmare scenario fears and his most fervent bigoted supporters having their day in the sun, protesting has become a necessity.

An  election does not give the winner immunity from protest in a democracy. When the President Elect is promising to usher in a downright dangerous environment for marginalized groups, those groups and their allies should challenge the President Elect any way they can.

As for tactics, hitting the streets, boycotting Trump-aligned brands and calling out racism and misogyny can all be effective. Right here in Montreal, there is a Stop Bannon Phone-a-Thon putting Americans living here in touch with their local elected officials. There is also a solidarity action in the US encouraging people who aren’t the target of persecution (ie. white people) to register as Muslims if Trump enacts a registry.

While I like the idea behind the move to impeach Trump, I’d like to remind those behind it that success would only lead to President Mike Pence, who, in many ways, is just as bad if not worse.

I would recommend aligning anti-Trump protests with other groups fighting against the things that this incoming President stands for. Solidarity with the #NODAPL protesters, for example, would be a great first step.

Politicians, other people and the mainstream media not taking Trump seriously during the Primaries and the General Election is what got us here. We can’t afford not to take the threat of a Trump Presidency seriously now. It’s time to fight.

 

In the midst of all the stories of long lines, screw-ups and smiling politicians voting in advanced polls, we have been, I guess you could say, “treated” to a few theatrical political stunts. There was the image of a woman voting with a potato bag over her head and another one of a man voting in a full clown costume with a mask covering his face and more as the days went by.

Now, please, don’t get me wrong. I love a good theatrical stunt as much as the next person, even more so, probably, having taken part in a few myself over the years. I’m usually the first to champion such clever expressions of dissent. This time, though, I’m not so sure.

You’re Allowed to Do It and You Should Be

Make no mistake. Voting with your face covered is perfectly legal in Canada. As long as you show your face to an Elections Canada employee briefly for identification purposes or swear an oath; much in the same way a citizenship oath can be taken with face covered as long as proper visual identification is done prior to the ceremony.

It’s all legal and should be. There is no security issue if proper identification is provided, leaving cultural prejudice as the only reason to object to someone covering their face.

While no one has ever attempted to ban wearing clown masks at polling places, there has been talk, far too much talk, about banning Muslim women from wearing niqabs in various aspects of public life. This is all political hot air and distraction which has somehow, unfortunately, caught hold and changed the focus of this election.

The Good

Jon Keefe did it for the right reasons. The St-John’s businessman put out a call to vote in the Newfoundland Christmas tradition of Mummering. He did so because he wanted to make a statement against the predominant role the issue of face covering has taken in the campaign.

mummer-voting
Jon Keefe (image CBC)

Keefe told CBC News that “it seemed like a great way to work in the point that there are already a lot of cultural customs across Canada that might seem bizarre or unusual to people unfamiliar with them, but we’ve all managed to get along pretty well so far.”

Taking the piss out of Harper’s tactics of division and mocking those who, through xenophobia or ignorance, have an obsession with Muslim women voting or taking a citizenship oath while wearing the niqab is a justifiable reason to do a theatrical stunt.

The Ugly

Unfortunately, most people photographed wearing some sort of facial covering in the past few days were doing it for all the wrong reasons. They weren’t protesting the manufactured obsession with the niqab, instead they were endorsing it.

Toeing the Conservative, or possibly the Bloc, party line, people like Rafik Hanna, who voted were quoted saying “truly sad that I can vote to elect a Canadian prime minister without having to show my face and prove my identity.”

If you read between the lines (and ignore the fact that he did have to prove his identity, albeit briefly), the message is clear. These people have a problem with Muslim women who choose to wear a niqab doing so in a citizenship ceremony, or when voting or taking part in any other aspect of public life.

This is even more clear when it is done by someone who shares the image of him voting on the Facebook page of known racist organization Pegida Canada:

voting-quebec-flag-face-covering

They are effectively campaigning for Harper and his xenophobic tactics of fear and division while at a polling station. Campaigning in a poling station is illegal, by the way. Voting with a mask isn’t.

The Silver Lining

Whenever the bigoted debate over religious face covering at public events rears its ugly head, those vocally opposed always make four arguments:

1. It’s a security risk

2. It’s oppressive

3. There’s nothing in the Qur’an about the niqab.

4. What if I wore a Halloween costume when voting? Would you be okay with that, too?

Arguments two and three are easy to deflate. If the person wearing the niqab is being oppressed, then why oppress her more by denying her citizenship or the right to vote? And if you say there’s nothing in the Qur’an about the niqab, well, I didn’t know you were a scholar. If that is true, though, I’d like to point out there’s nothing in the Bible about wearing a cross around your neck, but you wouldn’t dare make a Christian take off her necklace to vote, would you?

The people wearing masks to the polling station over the past few days have defeated argument four in a way that no bit of intellectual debate ever could. Would we be okay with you wearing a Halloween costume to the polls? Yes, and so is Elections Canada.

Does it look ridiculous? Yes. Does that mean that the concept of voting with a face covering is also ridiculous? No.

A Muslim woman wearing a niqab to vote is not silly. People wearing Halloween costumes to the polls to protest her right to do it look, for the most part, like idiots.

These stunts also have the added bonus of destroying argument one, that a niqab is a security concern. It’s clearly not.

If proper identification is done, it makes absolutely no difference what you wear to the polling place.

When you take away the four main arguments, all that is left for people who think wearing a niqab should be election issue number one is to either admit their ignorance or admit their bigotry. Because if you strip away the rhetoric, they all pretty much sound like this guy:

For those of you who don’t speak French, the man wearing a fake niqab standing outside of a polling place tells the camera that he wants all Muslims out of Quebec before being schooled by a Muslim woman.

Forgive the pun, but the veil is off. The whole niqab debate is a manufactured controversy designed to boost Harper’s polling numbers by playing to people afraid of the Muslim ‘other’ above all else. The intended audience wants everyone to act like “old-stock” Canadians or Quebecois, conveniently forgets that they are themselves the descendants of immigrants and is obsessed with this issue to the point of it blocking out all other electoral concerns.

At least now, thanks to a few people who tried to make a statement while voting, that fact is now crystal clear for all to see.

“Indeed, both Jews and Arabs are the Children of Abraham; Jews descended from his second son Isaac (peace be on him) and Arabs from the first son Ishmael (peace be on him). To Moses, God Almighty revealed the Torah, as He revealed to Jesus (peace be on him) the Gospel.” – Shahul Hameed, onislam.net

Some very tragic events took place over the past few weeks. Several people were killed in a Kosher supermarket in the suburbs of Paris. A shooting took place around a synagogue in Copenhagen. Following these, a video titled “10 Hours of Walking in Paris as a Jew” appeared, which, considering the neo-conservative ties of the journalist who shot the video, was a nothing more than a PR stunt for those who absolutely want to promote the Aliyah of European Jews.

And the tragic news kept on coming. A Jordanian pilot slain by ISIS, increased ISIS presence in Libya, the murder of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, the ongoing civil war in Syria, and the ever-present situation in Gaza… The only glimmer of hope came from Oslo this weekend, where Muslims and Jews joined hands in a very mediatized show of solidarity. In the face of all this madness and insanity, some have responded with even more madness and insanity.

marine-le-pen

The witch hunt that started in France against those were identified as “enemies of secularism,” and the birth of “radical” secularism – which in fact isn’t secularism at all, but just xenophobia in disguise –  are just a couple of examples of the “madness” that is in the air. The madness culminated in its apex yesterday in a report by the president of le Conseil répresentatif des institutions juifs de France (CRIF). In the report, the supposed voice of the majority of French Jews stated that Marine LePen – the leader of the fascist Front National, the most anti-Jewish of all French political parties – was herself irreproachable, that the only problems were caused by “some members of the FN,” and that, in fact, most violence perpetrated against the French Jewish community were the acts of “Young Muslims.”

Recently, the so-called peak in ‘extremist religious’ violence has allowed “anti-terrorism” legislations to be passed throughout the world, at the cost of civil liberties and of democratic rights. On the other hand, this violence has also empowered fascistic sections of Canadian and Quebecois society, allowing bigoted and xenophobic discourses to go unopposed, and garner mainstream coverage.

The same has happened within the Jewish community, as well. The violence perpetrated against people of Jewish descent, or of Jewish faith, has empowered a scary xenophobic discourse, which doesn’t draw a line between Islamism and Islam; between a fundamentalist minority that receives much more attention than the fundamentalist segments of other religions, and the overwhelming peaceful majority of Muslims. On the 70th anniversary of the Shoah, of the liberation of Auschwitz, we must stand firm against such kind of discourse – it’s a moral duty.

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French Jewish Defense League activists demonstrating in Paris, 2011. (Ligue de Defense Juive)

 

This, in no way, excuses anti-Jewish discourse or actions – they are despicable and must be fought. But those who perpetuate the most prevalent anti-Jewish discourse today, claim to to be the defender of our faith, and consider themselves the sole voice of the Jewish people. The political consequences of this is slowly showing itself, even here in Montreal, not more than a few blocks away from where I am writing this piece. The Jewish Defense League (JDL), considered to be a terrorist organization by Israel, the EU and the United States, and whose slogan, ironically, is “never again” has set up shop in Montreal this past week. To those in the JDL who stress the motto “never again” and the need to “defend the Jewish community from the Islamist threat” I have but one thing to say: The antisemitism of the 1930s and 1940s is the Islamophobia of today, and if we really want “never again” to be more than a slogan, we must fight discrimination against any and every minority. We must fight discrimination in every shape and form.

The JDL’s discourse and the true notion of “never again” are antithetical. “Never again” is a universal call for tolerance, acceptance, solidarity, peace, and, most importantly, resilience against the horrors of xenophobia. Thus, if we truly want to follow the creed of “never again,” we must make sure we fight the presence of the JDL. We must fight all those who resort to a discourse that uses violence as a justification to perpetuate even more violence, that tries to justify one form of racism with yet another. It’s a discourse of hatred that disseminates itself in the disguise of religion, or of some higher moral ground, or in the drapes of secularism. It’s a discourse that is prevalent within the neoconservative movement across the globe right now. It’s a discourse that is at the backbone of the hatred that fuels ISIS, and other such Islamist organizations. It’s the ideological foundation of fascism and of fascist movements. It’s this discourse that links them all together.

We are all sisters and brothers. Either we fight together, or we will perish together as fools!

A luta continua.

Recently, a headline caught my eye. It said, “Minister of Immigration Chris Alexander tables Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act.” I had to read the it twice because frankly I thought it was satire. Silly me. I should have gotten used to the Harper regime’s xenophobic extravagance by now.

Journalists, commentators, and pundits with some sense of decency have brushed aside the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, treating it simply as another one of those wacko Conservative acts. This act is just like a fading smoke signal to the Conservative voter base.

“If we had 100% of the power this is what we do, vote for us, and we’ll abolish the Supreme Court so we can pass such iniquitous laws,” Harper seems to be saying.

Olivia_Chow_mayoral_debate

This newly tabled act is just the last in a series of xenophobic bills put forward by the Conservative cabinet. Furthermore, it is part of a pan-Canadian trend of racism and xenophobia, which has been on the rise for the past few months. Just think about the Charter of Quebec Values, the Conservative plan to modify the framework of Canadian citizenship for creating a two tiered Canadian citizenship standard, racism against Olivia Chow during the municipal campaign in Toronto, and Islamophobia in the wake of the Ottawa shooting. All of these events have unveiled the ugly truth about Canadian society: It is still far from being exempt of systemic racism.

One of the things that Toronto’s mayoral race proved is that racism can still garnish some political ground in Canada, if it is intertwined in an insidious manner with right-wing populism. Maybe what didn’t work in Quebec’s provincial elections might work for the Neo-Tea Party in Ontario, if Doug Ford becomes the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. It most certainly was an essential factor of his mayoralty bid.

What both elections have in common, to a certain extent, is that there exists in Canada an electoral base that might be swayed by some blatant demagogic xenophobia – in the vein of the France’s Front National. The Conservative government, through their anti-immigration rhetoric and their metaphor of barbaric cultures has turned to a page right out of the extreme right-wing playbook.

Up until now, the way the Conservatives have been handling the immigration issue has essentially been economic. Their discourse has been one of unbridled exploitation. “Immigrants are only good, if they generate profit for the Canadian economy. On the other hand if they don’t, they are useless and we must get rid of them,” goes their discourse.

There are other examples to this discourse and its politics: the Bogus Refugee claims, refugee health care, the temporary migrant workers program etc. In this sense, the Conservative party has many similarities with the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and its leader Nigel Farage, who has used the anti-immigrant rhetoric to undermine the traditional hegemony of the British Conservative Party on the British right wing. Doesn’t that ring any bells? Reform Party, anyone?

Parliament_building

But it seems like the Conservative Party ,with their two last bills, has gone further than UKIP and its politics of “soft extreme-right,” which plays on immigration, but not on identity matters. The hard extreme-right, a constellation of all of humanity’s demons, has this visceral need to define identity. To them identity is based on the exclusion of those that are not like us, those that are not part of the “nation.’’  Such is the political agenda of the Le Front National in France or the extreme-right Dutch Party for Freedom.

The Conservative government is clandestinely, through their debate about “Barbaric Cultural Practices,” calling for a debate about the true nature of Canadian identity. Etymologically speaking, barbarian means the other, the person that isn’t us, and by extension not part of Canada. And beyond this, the blanket statement “Barbaric Cultures” also refers to some sort of hierarchy of cultures. It perpetuates the idea that some cultures on that ladder are inferior or superior to others.

It seems that the cultural practices that stem from Western or European groups are quite alright, but “other” cultures have to be put under the loop for their barbaric cultural practices. Thus, with this rhetorical ingenuity, the Conservative regime has redefined Canadian identity.

Too long have we comforted ourselves with the idea that Canada, and Canadians aren’t racist, and because of this we have this false idea that we haven’t let racism creep into the highest spheres of power. The Conservative move to introduce legislation that bans “barbaric cultural practices” is no different than the extreme right-wing proposals on the European continent. Unfortunately in our case, the Conservative party has managed to achieve power, and its threat is very real.

A luta continua.