La laïcité is not racism
It isn’t racist or xenophobic to want to protect Quebec culture and identity
Since the bill was tabled last September, we have often heard that the proposed charter on secularism amounts to racism. This was the rallying cry of those who took to the streets on a few occasions. Swastika crosses have been painted on numerous Parti Québécois signs in Montreal, and so on.
There are legitimate reasons for opposing la laïcité, but the opponents are losing the debate when they use these types of argument.
Several provisions of the bill are aimed at restricting the numerous religious accommodations that several public institutions, left without any guidelines, have been granting to various groups over the last decade or so.
Some swimming pools in Côte-des-Neiges, for instance, have introduced separate bathing schedules for women following demands made by Muslims, just like in Saudi Arabia or Iran. This is a violation of gender equality.
Following a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1990s, the Commission scolaire de Montréal has been granting some extra paid leaves, on religious grounds, to Jews and Muslims. In Outremont, Hassidim Jews are not getting parking tickets on Shabbat. These examples mean that we are no longer following a fundamental democratic principle: equality under law.
Thanks to multiculturalism, we now have instead different rules for different groups, a politically correct form of segregation. Even Philippe Couillard agrees that this is a worrying trend and that something has to be done. Is he a racist?
The most contentious part of the PQ’s proposal is the ban on ostentatious religious signs for civil servants. But this exists in France, and in some parts of Belgium and Germany. Should we conclude that these countries are full of racists, that they trample individual rights and that Quebec is about to become the next member of this new axis of evil?
If this provision of the secular charter is xenophobic, its inherent logic is nonetheless identical to the one underpinning the ban on political signs for those working in the civil service. While on duty, a civil servant embodies the state and works for all citizens. Wearing a badge saying that he or she favours the Green party or the Liberals is not compatible with the neutrality of such a position. One’s capacity to be neutral is impaired.
This is an accepted, and reasonable, limit to our freedom of expression. The same goes for freedom of religion. When a person wears a big cross, a Muslim veil, a kirpan or a kippah, this individual tells everybody else that he or she is adhering to a very sacred truth, a fundamental narrative only shared by those of the same faith.
This proselytism is incompatible with the neutrality of the state. Let’s say, for example, that I call the police to complain about my neighbour making noise at 4 a.m. The police officer arrives and he wears a turban, as some do in English Canada. Imagine that my neighbour also wears a turban. How am I supposed to expect the representative of the law to act and adjudicate in a fair and neutral way?
He can’t, if he wears a turban. The appearance of impartiality is not respected. The same goes for a judge, a professor, and so on. Is it a display of jingoism to express such a concern?
Of course there are legitimate arguments against the charter. One can fear that Quebec would lose numerous doctors and nurses. It can be argued that the problem is, in fact, very small in scope and that the PQ is overreacting. These are the points that should be hammered by those opposed to secularism.
But many have not been using this reasoning. Whenever there is a movement in this province in favour of the protection of our distinct identity, the French language or la laïcité, the accusation of racism always seems to come to the surface.
If there is a form of xenophobic intolerance somewhere, it is in this systematic defamation of Quebec’s legitimate aspirations.