Tragedy will only pause di­vi­sive de­bate in Que­bec

Rea­son­able ac­com­mo­da­tion of re­li­gious mi­nori­ties by a sec­u­lar state still has long way to go

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL - Chan­tal Hébert Chan­tal He­bert is a na­tional af­fairs writer with Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices

For more than a decade, Que­bec has been the scene of a di­vi­sive and, so far, ster­ile de­bate as to what con­sti­tutes the rea­son­able ac­com­mo­da­tion of re­li­gious mi­nori­ties by a sec­u­lar state.

Over that pe­riod, Que­be­cers have been sub­jected to a bar­rage of fear-mon­ger­ing rhetoric pur­port­ing that the sec­u­lar na­ture of their pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions is under at­tack from an army of re­li­gious zealots – mostly, but not ex­clu­sively, of the Mus­lim faith. For much of the time, the sound of dog-whis­tle pol­i­tics has dom­i­nated the con­ver­sa­tion with de­pic­tions of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity of­ten amount­ing to lit­tle more than car­i­ca­ture.

Over his lead­er­ship cam­paign last year, Jean-Fran­cois Lisee of the Parti Que­be­cois (PQ) ham­mered the no­tion that pub­lic safety re­quired gov­ern­ments to con­sider ban­ning the burka to pre­vent ter­ror­ists from wear­ing the full-body cov­er­ing to hide lethal weapons.

Last sum­mer, Que­bec’s third party, the Coali­tion Avenir QuÈbec (CAQ), flirted with the no­tion of a ban on body-cov­er­ing bathing suits such as the burkini. Its plat­form point­edly calls for vet­ting the val­ues of im­mi­grants to en­sure they are aligned with the prov­ince’s main­stream.

In 2015, the Bloc Que­be­cois ran ads against the NDP that fea­tured an oil drop mor­ph­ing into a niqab-wear­ing fe­male face. The ad was taken down from the party’s web­site only af­ter the at­tack on the mosque last Sun­day.

In the last fed­eral elec­tion, Stephen Harper’s Con­ser­va­tives ex­ported the de­bate to the rest of Canada under the guise of a pro­posed ban on the wear­ing of the niqab at cit­i­zen­ship cer­e­monies and the prom­ise of a snitch line to re­port so-called bar­baric cul­tural prac­tices.

The is­sue haunts the party still as it looks for a new leader. For the first time in the lead­er­ship cam­paign of a main­stream fed­eral party, there is a de­bate as to whether im­mi­grants pose a threat to Cana­dian val­ues. The no­tion that they do may have enough trac­tion within party ranks to have pro­pelled its lead­ing cham­pion, Kel­lie Leitch, to the top tier of a crowded lead­er­ship field. That is at least un­til this week. In re­sponse to the Que­bec City tragedy but also to U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s travel ban on the cit­i­zens of seven Mus­lim­ma­jor­ity coun­tries, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has warned that anti-im­mi­gra­tion sen­ti­ment had never been a Con­ser­va­tive value.

For­mer fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ter Ja­son Ken­ney force­fully de­nounced a travel ban that tar­gets Mus­lims.

Those are voices that res­onate loudly within the Cana­dian right.

In Que­bec, this has been a week of pub­lic atone­ment for the prov­ince’s po­lit­i­cal class. Lisee has ex­pressed re­grets about some of his out­landish con­tri­bu­tions to the con­ver­sa­tion, no­tably on the burka.

Premier Philippe Couil­lard is con­vinced that the tone go­ing for­ward will be less cor­ro­sive.

There is no doubt that the many pub­lic as­sur­ances of good­will given to a griev­ing Mus­lim com­mu­nity this week were heart­felt.

But turn­ing down the vol­ume is not the same as chang­ing chan­nels.

It will take more than a tragedy to re­cast the ac­com­mo­da­tion de­bate along lines more re­spect­ful of mi­nor­ity rights.

Con­sider, on this score, Que­bec’s Bill 62. It is the lat­est leg­isla­tive pro­posal de­signed to bring clo­sure to the re­li­gious ac­com­mo­da­tion de­bate. It will do any­thing but that.

The bill would re­quire any­one of­fer­ing or re­ceiv­ing pub­lic ser­vices in the prov­ince to un­cover his or her face, a dis­po­si­tion that could hardly ap­ply to any­one ex­cept to a mi­nor­ity of Mus­lim women.

Que­bec’s op­po­si­tion par­ties do not feel that goes far enough. The PQ would im­pose a sec­u­lar dress code on mem­bers of the po­lice force, judges, prison guards and Crown at­tor­neys. The CAQ would also in­clude teach­ers and child-care work­ers. If the Lib­eral bill passes as is, the op­po­si­tion par­ties will cam­paign on ex­pand­ing its dis­po­si­tions in next year’s pro­vin­cial elec­tion.

The na­tional assem­bly was ex­pected to shortly re­sume de­bate on Bill 62. The at­tack on the Que­bec mosque will re­sult in a pause. But sooner rather than later the par­ties will pick up where they left off be­fore this week’s events.

Af­ter a decade, it may be over­due to seek the in­put of peo­ple less in­clined to play foot­ball with the rights of re­li­gious mi­nori­ties, or at least to bring a ref­eree onto the field.

If premier Couil­lard de­cided to re­fer his bill and the op­po­si­tion’s pro­pos­als to the courts to find out how well, if at all, they sit with the Que­bec and Cana­dian char­ters of rights, he would ren­der this de­bate a much needed ser­vice

“Turn­ing down the vol­ume is not the same as chang­ing chan­nels.”

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