PM takes ‘ni-ni’ stance on CAQ hi­jab ban

Trudeau calls plan dis­crim­i­na­tory, but doesn’t say what he would do about it

Montreal Gazette - - EDITORIAL - DON MACPHERSON Twit­ter: Dmacpgaz

The cover of the December edi­tion of L’ac­tu­al­ité mag­a­zine is as dra­matic as its sub­ject. Justin Trudeau poses in close-up in a dark suit and tie against a dark back­ground. The cap­tion de­scribes the prime min­is­ter as “pre­par­ing for bat­tle” in next year’s gen­eral elec­tion. In white let­ters boldly con­trast­ing with the back­ground, it quotes him say­ing de­fi­antly, “I’ve cho­sen my side.”

That quo­ta­tion from the mag­a­zine’s in­ter­view with Trudeau refers to his op­po­si­tion to the pro­posal by Que­bec’s new govern­ment to for­bid its em­ploy­ees in “po­si­tions of au­thor­ity” from wear­ing re­li­gious sym­bols. The ban is aimed mainly at fe­male Mus­lim teach­ers who wear the head-cov­er­ing hi­jab.

“Que­be­cers know it very well,” Trudeau said of his po­si­tion. “I will de­fend the rights and free­doms of all, even if it’s un­pop­u­lar.”

And now that he’s put him­self on the record, what will the prime min­is­ter of Canada ac­tu­ally do to de­fend mi­nor­ity free­doms against the Coali­tion Avenir Québec govern­ment?

The an­swer sug­gested by L’ac­tu­al­ité’s ac­count of the in­ter­view: as lit­tle as pos­si­ble.

“I will al­ways be against dis­crim­i­na­tion, in­equal­i­ties and in­tol­er­ance,” Trudeau said. “I have deep con­vic­tions on rights and free­doms and the de­fence of mi­nori­ties.”

And “for my govern­ment, it’s not true that in a free so­ci­ety we can al­low dis­crim­i­na­tion based on re­li­gion. It’s as sim­ple as that.”

Well, maybe not quite that sim­ple. For when in­ter­viewer Alec Cas­tonguay asked him whether he will wage a “po­lit­i­cal bat­tle” against the hi­jab ban, the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal leader an­swered, “I don’t want to lead a po­lit­i­cal bat­tle.”

He said he has warned Premier François Le­gault that the lat­ter won’t be able to in­tro­duce “le­gal dis­crim­i­na­tion against cer­tain mi­nori­ties and their re­li­gions,” much less “do it quickly, to get it over with.”

He ex­pressed con­fi­dence that Que­be­cers would spon­ta­neously turn against an elec­tion prom­ise they liked enough to give the CAQ a ma­jor­ity. But he would leave that up to them.

“I have con­fi­dence in Que­be­cers,” he said, once they re­al­ized the “con­crete con­se­quences for those who will ex­pe­ri­ence this dis­crim­i­na­tion al­lowed and en­cour­aged by the state.”

He re­called his ad­vice to English Cana­di­ans to stay out of the de­bate on the for­mer Parti Québé­cois govern­ment’s ear­lier anti-hi­jab pro­posal, and to “let Que­be­cers de­bate the ques­tion and de­cide. I had con­fi­dence that Que­be­cers, once they re­al­ized that vul­ner­a­ble women might lose their jobs, were go­ing to say that it wasn’t a good idea.”

His po­si­tion could be de­scribed as “ni-ni,” for “nei­ther in­ter­fer­ence nor in­dif­fer­ence,” the de­scrip­tion of France’s long-stand­ing pol­icy on Que­bec in­de­pen­dence.

Trudeau’s fa­ther and pre­de­ces­sor as prime min­is­ter took a sim­i­lar po­si­tion when Que­bec gov­ern­ments in­tro­duced anti-English leg­is­la­tion in the 1970s.

Pierre Trudeau wrote later that, as much as he dis­liked the leg­is­la­tion, he had no in­ten­tion of re­viv­ing the fed­eral govern­ment’s long-dis­used con­sti­tu­tional power to dis­al­low it.

“The way to change bad laws is to change the govern­ment, rather than us­ing Ot­tawa to co­erce a prov­ince,” wrote Trudeau the Elder. “The best course was to hope Que­bec ci­ti­zens would chal­lenge the provin­cial leg­is­la­tion in the courts — which hap­pened to sev­eral dis­crim­i­na­tory pro­vi­sions — and to hope as well that the peo­ple would be­come bet­ter in­formed and their politi­cians more open-minded.”

But while the younger Trudeau doesn’t want to lead a po­lit­i­cal bat­tle against a Que­bec hi­jab ban, he ap­par­ently shies away from a le­gal fight, too.

A year ago, when hu­man­rights and Mus­lim groups chal­lenged the for­mer Que­bec Lib­eral govern­ment’s leg­is­la­tion against fa­cial veils in pub­lic ser­vices as dis­crim­i­na­tory, Trudeau said his govern­ment was con­sid­er­ing pos­si­ble ac­tion against the law.

A year later, it’s ap­par­ently still con­sid­er­ing, and it has yet to join the chal­lenge.

Que­bec se­ces­sion­ists have been hop­ing for a fight with Ot­tawa over iden­tity to re­vive their move­ment. L’ac­tu­al­ité’s cover story sug­gests they shouldn’t count on Trudeau to give them one. Nei­ther should the ob­jects of the dis­crim­i­na­tion he de­plores.

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