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EDITORIAL (Oct. 2017): Pandering to religious intolerance

November 2nd, 2017 · No Comments

Quebec recently passed Bill 62: An Act to foster adherence to state religious neutrality and, in particular, to provide a framework for requests for accommodations on religious grounds in certain bodies.

Unwieldy title aside, Bill 62 does little to separate church and state as its sponsors allege. The bill, which requires a person who delivers or receives public services to have their face uncovered, is a thinly veiled discriminatory attack on the fundamental rights of the minority of Muslim women who cover their face with a niqab or burka.

The law is a clear violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is a politically motivated oppression of a socially vulnerable religious minority. A de facto healthy dose of gender discrimination is thrown in, just in case you think this thing will survive a court challenge.

Many in the media have taken a technical read of the bill and decided it would be fun to report on this as a war on dark sunglasses. Yes, the bill is poorly crafted, doomed to fail, but reducing it to comedy misses the point.

The Quebec government is facing a general election in a year’s time, and the opposition parties are even more hawkish in opposing religious accommodation. As it stands, all parties are trying to garner support from the 87 per cent of the electorate that support the mandatory removal of the religious garb. It’s yet another way of telling women how to dress, and that is no laughing matter. Particularly so, when you consider how universally the law would apply. Anyone taking public transit, using the library, attending a publicly-funded school, or receiving health care would be affected.

“To take public transit you have to have your face uncovered, all through the ride,” said Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée. A veiled woman might be reasonably expected to reveal her face to confirm photo identification, but why insist that she do so while in transit? It’s all about an inability to embrace the “other”. Diversity may be a hard pill to swallow but it’s not only our future, it’s our present.

Most people in Toronto, for example, now identify themselves as visible minorities: 51.5 per cent of respondents according to Statistics Canada’s 2016 census. Across the nation, one fifth of the population was born outside of Canada. They settle largely in urban centres like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver and represent 250 unique ethnic origins.

It’s disturbingly clear that many are not willing to accept this new reality.

Some critics of women who choose to be covered say they are acting for the oppressed who are unable or powerless to recognize and oppose the oppression. Indeed, Vallée considers herself a trailblazer in crafting this legislation.

It’s telling that the Quebec government keeps insisting this is all about the religious neutrality of the state, but this is the same government that refused to entertain an opposition motion made by Quebec Solidaire to remove the crucifix over the Speaker’s Chair.

It has been there for 81 years, and there it remains.



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