Everyday Quebec grows a little more intolerant of its minorities and less accommodating, to the extent it’s on the road to becoming a global spectacle when it comes to xenophobia and hate.
Who would have thought that in a global environment where big-time hate-emitter Donald Trump is spewing so much bile about immigrants that Quebec would be today’s poster child for alienating minorities?
That’s what it has come to with the proposed legislation tabled by the governing CAQ in the National Assembly on Thursday, March 28, which aims to ban public servants in positions of authority, from wearing religious garments and symbols.
On the surface, Quebec Premier Francois Legault will have you believe that Bill 21 is about laicity, which is the French concept of secularism defining the separation of church and state.
And that by preventing civil servants in positions of authority from wearing certain types of clothes and displaying certain symbols will make for a more accomodating society.
In reality, nothing is further from the truth. Because of all the problems Quebecers have in front of them, the delivery of service by a public servant wearing a small crucifix, Star of David or hijab is not one of them.
But over the past two decades or so Quebec, like so many other western societies, has become contaminated with a particularly virulent strain of what can be loosely described as “anti-immigrant-itis,” that commonly manifests itself in malicious anti-Islam, anti-Moslem sentiments.
It’s a contagious socio-political malaise that has been sweeping across the western world and causing racial upheavals in Europe and especially in the USA where it has found a champion in its president.
Here in Quebec the issue made its way to the political agenda for real in 2007 after a little one-horse town called Herouxville, that has probably never been home to any immigrant, established a code of conduct that for the most part was an anti-Islam treatise.
Before long it became a ‘cause celebre’ for an extreme fringe of society, about 20 per cent or so and they commanded the attention of every provincial administration that has come into power since.
Regardless of ideology, these governments have been falling in line and indulging in the politics of fear and division as they target the handful of women who wear some form of head or face covering.
The Parti Quebecois did it in 2013 and in 2016 Liberal came up with the face covering legislation.
This latest attempt by the CAQ is more far-reaching and frightening because not only does it threaten the livelihood of families by directly preventing certain individuals from holding certain jobs, but create a climate of tensions among citizens.
Even more frightening is the fact that the bill will most likely make its way through the debates and the challenges, given the government’s hefty majority and Premier Francois Legault’s protective coating of a notwithstanding clause.
And what it would look like on the back-end is anybody’s guess, given that the government chose not to attach any enforcement policies to it.
So what they’ll do to those who do not respect the law seems to be anyone’s guess.
As a result we’re hearing some glib references from certain ministers about 911 and police interventions, meaning that you can be hauled off to the courts or jail for wearing certain things.
Not surprisingly, opposition is building on several fronts, the opposition Liberals, who only a year or two ago had their own secularism bill (Bill 62) continues to pick at the edges of this one. While the left-leaning Quebec Solidaire recently decided to stand in opposition to all aspects of Bill 21.
Also, two Anglophone school boards and one or two borough mayors around Montreal along with a long line of civil rights groups and institutions have signaled their intentions to oppose it.
In the midst of the cacophony of voices a prominent one, Charles Taylor, who co-authored the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation in Quebec, describes the bill as “clear discrimination” and urged opponents to “combat” it.
On Sunday, March 31, Premier Legault took to his Facebook page to say the CAQ’s bill is moderate and a reflection of values dear to Quebecers, and calls for people to be cool.
The truth is Bill 21 is extreme; Quebecers value secularism, not the abuse of minority religion, and a large number of them will make their voices heard in opposition to it.