That’s the question the Globe and Mail‘s Robyn Urbach asked in an opinion piece last week. The issue is Québec’s Loi 21 ~ the bill that forbids public employees, like teachers and police officers from wearing a hijab or a kippah or a turban ~ it’s an act which Ms Urbach describes as being “an egregious, oppressive, discriminatory law” which, she says, results in people “being denied jobs as teachers, police officers, judges or Crown prosecutors because of who they are and what they wear out of faith.” But, those head coverings are so threatening, aren’t they? Many Quebecers tell us that their very presence, in a classroom or courtroom, threatens Québec’s cherished laïcité, it’s enforced secularism. Robyn Urbach explains that “By this view, religion threatens to erode secular francophone identity, and thus, Quebec law should be permitted to keep religion out of the public sector. In practice, however, Bill 21 manifests less as “separation of church and state” than mandatory secularism, imposed by the state.“
If Québec’s precious laïcité and its “francophone identity” identity are so fragile that boys and girls must leave the province to pursue their dreams of being teachers or lawyers then maybe neither is worth it. Maybe Québec isn’t a free, liberal democracy. And, maybe Québec’s political elites cannot be trusted to make their own laws if they end up violating the basic civil rights of Canadians.
Thus far, Ms Urbach says, only “Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister … has spoken out repeatedly and unabashedly against the law known as Bill 21 … [but] … most Canadian leaders, particularly at the federal level, are content to pretend that harm doesn’t exist … [which is (see the link above) blatantly untrue, and] … When asked, and only when asked, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will say he does not agree with Quebec’s secularism law,” but he is afraid to say anything more. I’m sorry to say that few politicians, other than the ever estimable Mr Pallister, are willing to stand up for civil rights in Canada.
The fact is simple, Bill 21 is discriminatory. It should not stand. The federal government still has the power to disallow provincial legislation. That power has not been used since 1943 and some legal scholars (I’m certainly not one) argue that it is, now, dormant. What is required, now, at the national level, is a wee bit of leadership. As Robyn Urbach says, “In reality, Ottawa gets to pretend, for a myriad of reasons, that a disgraceful, oppressive policy is not being carried out on its watch … [but, excuses aside] … moral leadership is supposed to be part of the governing mandate … [and] … If ever Ottawa decides to abdicate its position of moral cowardice on Quebec, it should look into this “leadership” thing instead.“
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a moral coward … and a political one, too. There is nothing, not one scintilla of ‘good’ in Bill 21. It is immoral, repressive, discriminatory and unCanadian legislation that brings disgrace to every real Canadian. The Government of Québec is worse than illiberal, it has become a repressive and even a racist regime. This is worse than anything Maurice Duplessis did in ‘La Grande Noirceur‘ (the great darkness) in the 1940s and ’50s. The majority of Quebecers who support Bill 21 are, equally, racist and unCanadian … and they are weak if they believe, and Ms Urbach says that polling indicates that a majority do, that a kippah, hijab or turban threatens their precious “secular francophone identity.” If they actually do believe that then I say that their identity is not worth preserving … it’s only a weak, frail, worthless thing if school-children threaten it. It is time for Canadian political leaders, and not just our cowardly, man-child prime minister, to speak out, forcefully FOR equal rights for all Canadians … including schoolgirls. Québec’s Bill 21 must be challenged. by the national government in court, up to and including the Supreme Court. If court challenges fail then the power to disallow provincial legislation must be dusted off and used, again.
This is a challenge for all Canadians. It is not just a Québec issue, it is an issue of the civil rights of all Canadians. We are either all equal, at and under every law, in every province or some of us more equal than others … and we know where that leads. (Those cowardly knuckleheads on the right ⇒ are Québec based neo-nazis, by the way.)
Québec’s Bill 21 is bad policy and it is bad law and it must be overturned. If the Québec courts will not do it then other, superior, Canadian courts must. If the courts will not act then politicians must do the right thing.
Of course, someone will raise the threat of Québec separatism … but don’t worry, it’s a chimaera. Quebecers know that they cannot be a successful sovereign country ~ if they try the first HUGE problem they will face is … separatism. It is almost certain that the people of the James Bay and far Northern regions, of the Pontiac, which is North-West of Ottawa, and of the South Shore will want to leave a newly-independent Québec … and the indigenous people of the North have international law on their side. It is time, now, to remind Québec that it is a province, just “comme les autres” and it must not make laws that are offensive to any Canadian’s values or rights.
This law is just a nasty bit of ethnically based populism which should have no place in Canada; Quebecers, above many other Canadians, should understand the sting of prejudice. People who wear hijabs and kippahs and turbans and so on are Canadians; to discriminate against them is offensive to Canada and to Canadian laws, customs and values. It must stop … or be stopped.