Premier Legault says he’s trying to protect our distinct values. But when did not letting people dress as they choose become a Quebec value?
Heads up everyone, it’s time to fight over head scarves … again.
The Quebec government wants to forbid many public employees from wearing head scarves, kippahs, turbans — or crosses too big to hide under your shirt.
Welcome to Quebec’s latest “respectful” discussion of a disrespectful proposal to make secularism our new religion. There are so many things I don’t like about Bill 21, let me count the ways.
Reason 1: For starters, it’s a mean solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Most school boards don’t even know how many employees wear head scarves because it has never been an issue.
There have been zero complaints … so far. But a ban on teachers wearing religious symbols is bound to create tension with many minority groups — and worldwide news stories about Scarfgate.
There will be endless debates on what constitutes a head scarf, with tape measures pulled out like they were for our sign laws.
Frankly, most Quebecers would be stopped at airports as suspected jihadists if we tried to pass through security wearing our winter costumes.
Meanwhile, Montreal unions and human rights groups will take Quebec to court and the United Nations, making more international waves.
If you want to see how well this works out, visit France, the one country that banished head scarves (and crosses) from all government posts — and leads the western world in race and religious tensions.
As we say in Quebec: “Ayoye!”
Reason 2: Mercifully, there’s a grandfather clause for about 500 teachers already working in classrooms, to spare them their jobs.
But to grandfather … er, grandmother these teachers, we must first identify them, by taking a literal head count — of covered heads.
Yet most Montreal school boards are bravely refusing to participate in a “hijab hunt,” in the words of the president of one major French school board.
He says school boards don’t keep track of how many teachers wear head scarves — just as they don’t track how many Asian or Haitian teachers they have, versus French-Canadians.
At least it’s easier to count how many Quebec judges, prosecutors and police wear hijabs — because there are none.
Reason 3: Premier Legault says he’s just trying to protect our distinct Quebec values. But when did not letting people dress as they choose become a Quebec value? Is wearing distressed jeans, a hoodie and a baseball cap a historical Quebec costume?
In fairness to Legault, Quebec has been obsessed by the “reasonable accommodation” debate for 12 years, for complex reasons.
Part of the obsession is old instincts in towns like Hérouxville, where they worry about Muslim immigrants because they don’t have any.
That’s also why 42 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec supported Pauline Marois’s failed Charter of Quebec Values, that would also have barred state employees from wearing religious symbols.
Others pushing the new law include thinly-veiled xenophobes like the Anjou councillor who was appalled at being treated by a female ophthalmologist in a veil — although she received excellent medical treatment.
Maybe she’d have been happier to receive mediocre treatment by someone in an evening gown.
Reason 4: In most regions, people wanting to restrict religious headgear are older, conservative and living away from big cities. But adding to this traditional conservative anxiety is a special strain of Quebec left-wing angst.
Many francophones, including some I admire, are still upset that religion was forced on their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. So now they’re determined to “liberate” Muslim women from the tyranny of religion today.
They’re effectively saying: “We know you haven’t really made the choice to wear this head scarf — it was forced on you by your father, husband or religion.
“So we will save you, by forcing you not to wear it.”
The problem is we’ve been telling women what to wear forever — it’s only the reasons that keep changing.
The result: devout Muslim men will still thankfully be able to teach in Quebec public schools, because they don’t have to follow a strict religious dress code.
But many devout Muslim women will have to go teach in private Muslim schools — separating themselves from our society, instead of gradually integrating into it.
Reason 5: Legault insists it’s all for the sake of secularism — separating religion and the state. But secularism itself now threatens to become a new religion in Quebec, as intolerant of “believers” as religion can be of non-believers.
Legault wisely encouraged a unanimous vote to remove the crucifix from the National Assembly chamber as a sign of “compromise.”
But this debate will probably divide our province for years — pitting most anglos against francophones, Quebec against Canada and Montrealers against rural Quebec.
That’s why it’s heartening to see Mayor Valérie Plante and many Montreal francophone leaders and school board officials promising to fight, and even ignore, the proposed new law.
It’s enough to make me vote in school board elections.
To paraphrase Pierre Trudeau, senior: I think the state has no business in the bedrooms — or dressing rooms — of the nation.