Singh’s ex­am­ple should stir the con­sciences of Que­bec

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION -

With just six days left be­fore Canada votes, the New Democrats’ Jag­meet Singh has yet to emerge as a main con­tender to be­come this coun­try’s next prime min­is­ter.

But how­ever he and the party he leads fare when the bal­lots are counted, it can al­ready be said that Singh has been a force­ful and pos­i­tive pres­ence in this elec­tion. Nowhere is this truer than when it comes to Que­bec and the threat­ened sta­tus of mi­nor­ity groups in that prov­ince.

Singh is a mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, leader of a ma­jor party and a politi­cian who has set his sites on be­com­ing Canada’s next prime min­is­ter.

But he is also a prac­tis­ing Sikh who is quickly iden­ti­fied by his colour­ful tur­bans and bushy beard. This means that de­spite his im­pres­sive cre­den­tials, he would not be hired for many pub­lic-sec­tor jobs in Que­bec un­less he re­moved the tur­ban that is a key sym­bol of his faith.

Though a lawyer, Singh could not be­come a Crown pros­e­cu­tor or a judge in the prov­ince as long as he wore his tur­ban. He could not be a mem­ber of a pro­vin­cial com­mis­sion such as Que­bec’s rental board or labour tri­bunal. Nor could he be­come a po­lice of­fi­cer or teacher even if he took the trou­ble to qual­ify for such jobs.

The rea­son, of course, is Que­bec’s no­to­ri­ous Bill 21, the sec­u­lar­ism law that bans the wear­ing of re­li­gious sym­bols and cloth­ing by peo­ple in po­si­tions of au­thor­ity in much of the prov­ince’s pub­lic sec­tor.

Que­bec Pre­mier Fran­cois Le­gault not only de­fends this un­war­ranted tram­pling of ba­sic in­di­vid­ual lib­er­ties in Canada’s sec­ond most pop­u­lous prov­ince, he has told the lead­ers of Canada’s ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties to butt out of the con­tro­versy.

How sad that not one of the ma­jor party lead­ers — not Lib­eral Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, not the Con­ser­va­tives’ An­drew Scheer, the Green’s El­iz­a­beth May or even Singh — has ig­nored Le­gault’s warn­ing and pledged to join the fight against Bill 21 and de­fend the prov­ince’s mi­nor­ity faiths, its Sikhs, Mus­lims and Jews. Clearly, these lead­ers fear los­ing pre­cious Que­bec votes on Oct. 21.

But at the very least, Singh has re­peat­edly ad­dressed the is­sue of dis­crim­i­na­tion head-on in Que­bec. At the very least, his pres­ence and con­duct in this elec­tion should stir con­sciences in Que­bec and con­vince at least some peo­ple of good­will there to ques­tion the need for the nox­ious Bill 21.

In one cam­paign video, the NDP leader ap­peared briefly with­out a tur­ban, his long hair cas­cad­ing down around his shoul­ders. In that video Singh frankly dis­cussed his iden­tity as well as his com­mit­ment to fight for jus­tice. Later in the cam­paign, con­fronted by a man in Mon­treal who told him to cut off his tur­ban and “look like a Cana­dian,” Singh re­sponded with grace and re­straint.

“I think Cana­di­ans look like all sorts of peo­ple,” Singh rightly replied. “That’s the beauty of Canada.”

How ironic that Pre­mier Le­gault de­scribed what was said to Singh as racist. Le­gault’s Bill 21 has made peo­ple like Singh sec­ond-class cit­i­zens in Que­bec. The pre­mier is partly to blame when some Que­be­cers treat Singh that way.

And so what­ever hap­pens next Mon­day, Singh has done this coun­try a ser­vice. Not only is he the first mem­ber of a vis­i­ble mi­nor­ity group to lead a ma­jor fed­eral party in a gen­eral elec­tion, he has done this when race and iden­tify have be­come ma­jor cam­paign is­sues.

Let’s hope his ex­am­ple in­spires greater tol­er­ance not only in Que­bec but through­out Canada.

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