The Quebec government is at it again, raising the contentious issue of cultural identity within the province in their proposed Charter of Quebec Values.
The nationalist-separatist Partí Quebecois government is attempting to introduce a piece of legislation that would ban all public government employees from wearing overt religious symbols at the workplace.
If passed, the charter would prohibit public day care and hospital staff, teachers, school staff, police officers, judges, prosecutors and municipal staff members from wearing any visible religious symbols.
Of course the ban would not be extended to elected government officials who feel they are above the laws they seek to create, but that’s another issue. This ban would include symbols such as but not limited to: burkas, yarmulkes, niqābs, turbans, hijabs and large crosses.
The official reason given by the PQ for this ban has been that it will support a secular society in which the separation between religion and government will be advanced. Even this justification would not suffice as decent enough reason to restrict the rights and freedoms of individuals to express their religious affiliation.
The point is moot. The reality of the proposed ban isn’t that it seeks to promote secularism. Rather, the premise of secularism is being used as a veil for what is really an attempt to protect and entrench Quebec’s francophone majority in the province’s cultural identity.
With a large French-speaking majority in Quebec, there is a persistent feeling that the francophone Quebecois culture — which is mainly Catholic — is at risk of fading away. In the past the threat was English-speaking North-American culture and now it is the vast mix of cultures and languages brought about by immigration from across the world.
This ever present sense of cultural annihilation has lead Quebec to legislate the use of all language to encourage the use of French, as well as to form referendums on the very existence of Quebec within the Canadian federation.
With support for separation now at a historic low, Premier Pauline Marois’ PQ government is searching for a new boogeyman to rally francophone-Quebecois nationalism. The new targets for the PQ are the recent immigrants, with whom the French language is not so popular.
The veiled attack on immigrants and their perceived risk to Quebec’s francophone identity is nothing new, despite the increase of its magnitude.
In the early ’90s there was a case of school girls being expelled for wearing their hijabs to class. In another instance, the Quebec Soccer Federation banned players from wearing turbans on the field under the premise of safety until pressure from FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association forced them to reverse the ban.
The recently proposed Charter of Quebec Values will most definitely target the religions of recent immigrants more so than the dominant Catholic religion.
The ban on religious symbols will only apply to large crosses worn, but fails to specify how large is too large. It also ignores the fact that thousands of streets and towns in Quebec are named after Catholic figures, that there is a large cross that sits on a hill overlooking Montreal and that Quebec’s provincial National Assembly has a large and impossible to ignore cross hanging over it.
The cross in the national Assembly will not be removed because it is supposedly part of Quebec culture since it bears witness to Quebec’s history, according to Quebec’s Citizenship Minister Bernard Drainville.
It is no surprise that francophone Catholics in Quebec support the ban, as the onus on them appears to be lightest. They merely have to wear smaller, less visible crosses if working in the public service sector, while individuals whose religious symbols aren’t as easy to hide, such as a turban, will be forced to choose between their religion and their job.
It is somewhat surprising, however, that Quebec’s civil servants union, with 47,000 members, supports the ban. Though to their credit, they’re true to their secular premise in that they also want to remove the cross from the National Assembly.
Of course, not all citizens in Quebec are cool with the proposed ban. In Montreal, where immigration is significantly higher than the rest of Quebec, opposition to the ban is strong. There have been protests numbering in the thousands in the city as well as opposition voiced by all of the city’s candidates in the upcoming mayoral election.
As one of Canada’s major immigration destinations, Montreal could once again prove to be a hotbed of cultural identity tension.
Graphic: Cody Schumacher/Graphics Editor