Po­lice-hi­jab de­bate isn’t just the­o­ret­i­cal

The Sault Star - - OPINION - — Postmedia Net­work

The is­sue of whether Que­bec should ban re­li­gious head­gear for pub­lic em­ploy­ees who wield co­er­cive author­ity on be­half of the state is no longer the­o­ret­i­cal.

Now, it has a name and a smil­ing face, and they be­long to Son­dos Lam­rhari, a 17-yearold, Mon­treal-born stu­dent in a CEGEP po­lice tech­nol­ogy pro­gram whose am­bi­tion it is to serve as a po­lice of­fi­cer.

Thurs­day’s Jour­nal de Mon­tréal story about the hi­jab-wear­ing teen caused a stir among leg­is­la­tors in Que­bec City.

Those op­po­si­tion politi­cians who, in the name of sec­u­lar­ism, be­lieve in plac­ing re­stric­tions on the wear­ing of re­li­gious head­gear make a va­ri­ety of ar­gu­ments.

One of the weak­est was that ad­vanced Thurs­day by Parti Québé­cois MNA Agnès Mal­tais, who cited the case of a young woman from Gatineau who went to po­lice and told them her fa­ther had beaten her for not want­ing to wear her hi­jab. What if that young woman had had to present her com­plaint to a hi­jab-wear­ing of­fi­cer, Mal­tais won­dered. “I say we, the Parti Québé­cois, take the side of the po­ten­tial vic­tims.” There’s a lot to un­pack in that ar­gu­ment. Among other things, it cre­ates a false con­flict. Any of­fi­cer do­ing his or her job would be fo­cus­ing on the as­sault com­plaint; the of­fi­cer’s re­li­gious be­liefs about hi­jabs or about whether par­ents have a right to peace­fully com­pel re­li­gious ob­ser­vance by their chil­dren are be­side the point. Also, it’s not for po­lice to take sides be­tween ac­cusers and ac­cused, that’s what courts are for.

The ar­gu­ment, which arises pe­ri­od­i­cally in var­i­ous forms (dat­ing back to the con­tro­versy decades ago over tur­bans in the RCMP), also seems to pre­sume bias on the part of a head­gear-wear­ing of­fi­cer, or at least as­sumes per­cep­tion of bias by such a com­plainant.

But pre­sum­ing some­one is bi­ased on ac­count of their re­li­gion is it­self a form of bias.

In any case, it’s in­cum­bent on po­lice to set aside their own opin­ions and act pro­fes­sion­ally. No one should have their ca­reer curbed be­cause some cit­i­zens might have prej­u­dices about them.

Sadly, it seems as if re­li­gious head­gear is shap­ing up to be a Que­bec elec­tion is­sue. An­other round of iden­tity politics is the last thing Que­be­cers need, though at this point, one might not ex­pect oth­er­wise from the PQ or Coali­tion Avenir Québec.

The Lib­er­als have stood against these re­stric­tive pro­pos­als; still, it is dis­ap­point­ing that Premier Philippe Couil­lard has sug­gested that po­lice dress-code de­ci­sions should be made at the lo­cal level. That looks like a po­lit­i­cal ma­noeu­vre to de­flect re­spon­si­bil­ity.

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