Chador ban is a so­lu­tion in search of a prob­lem

The Delhi News-Record - - OPINION - DON MacPHERSON Dan Macpherson is a colum­nist for the Mon­treal Gazette.

Ap­par­ently, François Le­gault’s new Coali­tion Avenir Québec gov­ern­ment al­ready has ad­dressed all the prov­ince’s real prob­lems. Be­cause, less than a week af­ter tak­ing of­fice, it was al­ready turn­ing its at­ten­tion to an imag­i­nary one.

In Que­bec, Mus­lim women who wear the chador, a shawl that cov­ers the body and the head ex­cept for the face, are so rare that the me­dia il­lus­trate sto­ries about them with vi­su­als from abroad. As far as any­body knows, there are none in the prov­ince’s civil ser­vice.

The CAQ, how­ever, is sus­pi­ciously ob­sessed with the chador. And even if it is non-ex­is­tent in the civil ser­vice, the gov­ern­ment said this week it in­tends to ban it any­way.

It would ex­tend the for­mer Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s law against face cov­er­ings such as the niqab and burka, worn by a few Mus­lim women in Que­bec, for peo­ple giv­ing or re­ceiv­ing pub­lic ser­vices.

And the chador pro­hi­bi­tion would be in ad­di­tion to the CAQ’s pro­posal to for­bid gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees in “po­si­tions of author­ity,” in­clud­ing teach­ers, from wear­ing any re­li­gious sym­bol.

The CAQ says the shawl is a sym­bol of the op­pres­sion of women.

But why stop there, at chadors in the civil ser­vice, that don’t ex­ist any­way? Why not ex­tend the ban to other things that are said to op­press women, and that un­like the chador, are ac­tu­ally worn by fe­male civil ser­vants?

Let’s start with high-heeled shoes. Google “high heels op­pres­sion,” and you’ll get “about 2,530,000 re­sults,” in­clud­ing ar­ti­cles by fem­i­nists ar­gu­ing that heels are em­pow­er­ing, be­cause the added height makes the wearer feel stronger and more con­fi­dent.

Other women, how­ever, wear heels even though they find them un­com­fort­able, even painful, and risk in­jury, be­cause they feel pres­sure to do so. Some of these women may work in the Que­bec civil ser­vice. Shouldn’t the CAQ un­shackle these slaves of fash­ion?

See­ing high heels on a Québé­coise, how­ever, doesn’t bring out the fem­i­nist in a Que­bec cul­tural na­tion­al­ist the way merely imag­in­ing a veil on a Mus­lim woman does.

Nei­ther does see­ing the cru­ci­fix in the Assem­bly, a sym­bol of a Catholic Church that has been ac­cused of his­tor­i­cally op­press­ing Que­bec women. The same gov­ern­ment that would ban the chador from the civil ser­vice would keep the Assem­bly cru­ci­fix.

There are other in­con­sis­ten­cies in the CAQ’s po­si­tions.

The Coali­tion would for­bid judges from wear­ing re­li­gious sym­bols, but al­low the cru­ci­fix to re­main in court­rooms.

It uses fem­i­nism as a pre­text for re­strict­ing the wear­ing of the chador, and sec­u­lar­ism for other re­li­gious sym­bols.

The CAQ bases its pol­icy on a rec­om­men­da­tion of the BouchardTay­lor com­mis­sion, though the rec­om­men­da­tion did not men­tion ei­ther teach­ers or civil ser­vants.

The one con­sis­tency in the CAQ’s po­si­tions is that the brunt of their ad­verse ef­fects would be felt by one group in par­tic­u­lar: Mus­lims.

The most con­spic­u­ous and prob­a­bly most nu­mer­ous cat­e­gory of gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees who wear re­li­gious sym­bols are the Mus­lim women who wear the head scarf known as the hi­jab.

They, and other Mus­lim women who wear veils iden­ti­fied with their re­li­gion, would face dis­crim­i­na­tion in gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ment, de­nied op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­te­gra­tion.

A gov­ern­ment that claims to be con­cerned about the sym­bolic op­pres­sion of women would op­press Mus­lim women, in fact.

And Mus­lims in gen­eral would be stig­ma­tized.

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