How do you feel about Muslim women wearing a burka or a niqab in your cities and towns?
Do you think they should be allowed to wear them when they receive or give public services? Do you think they should be allowed to wear them if they are teaching your children in classrooms or taking your picture for a driver’s licence? How about when they are riding in a municipally-owned transit vehicle, like a bus or a subway car?
Some of you might be wondering why I would even ask such seemingly discriminatory questions, especially the latter one?
Well, these are questions being debated in my home province of Quebec, which passed a face-covering law last week that prevents people from giving or receiving public services while wearing niqabs, burkas, scarves etc.
As you might imagine, it is being decried by many around the world, including the federal government in Canada and the other Canadian provinces. But you might be surprised to learn that the bill is supported by the majority of people in Quebec, who I am sad to say view Muslims with some suspicion — even if they would never openly admit that. Call it the ISIS effect. Or the Al-Qaida effect.
Some political analysts are saying the move by the Quebec Liberals to pass Bill 62 was simply and only a vote-getting measure with an eye on the next election, playing on divisive political techniques like we saw bring Donald Trump (re: Mexicans) to power in the United States.
In truth, at least one Quebec political party — the Parti Québécois — has been employing the technique for decades because it believes the French culture needs to be preserved in Quebec — and that Quebec should be a sovereign nation.
The Liberals, on the other hand, claim they feel Quebec’s francophone culture is well-protected now and they continue to champion the federalist cause, at least, until last week when they passed a bill they really didn’t have to pass, because the number of women in the province believed to cover their faces is just over 100 — out of a population of 8 million.
This is the same Liberal party that drove the PQ out of power in the last election on much the same issue: the PQ proposed a charter of values that would have given Quebec a secular state when it came to all government services, with no displays of religious symbols permitted in public service.
The Liberals cried “Discrimination” then, and now have brought in a watered-down version of the same charter.
No doubt, they are hoping the analysts will dismiss this as a vote-getting measure, and that the hearts of most Liberal MNAs weren’t really in it and they simply voted for it because they were forced to by their leadership.
But I don’t buy it. If they truly felt Bill 62 was discriminatory, they would not have made it law. It’s a matter of principle. Those who voted for it were sending a message to all Muslims: this is a francophone Roman Catholic society, and don’t for a minute entertain any thoughts of changing that. Bill 62 is an anti-Muslim law, a shot across the bow.
Quebec is the first jurisdiction in North America to enact such a law. But other countries — and, yes, Quebec is a country — like France have enacted even tougher legislation. In France, for example, the burka and niqab are banned in public, and a man who forces a woman to wear one can be imprisoned for two years.
It remains to be seen if Quebec’s new law will survive court challenges. It also remains to be seen if Islamaphobia will grow in Quebec now that the government has drawn this line in the sand.
Photo: Woman in niqab. (Photo: Wikipedia)