Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney discuss the US Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the meaning of St-Jean Baptiste Day and Quebec Premier Legault’s statement against multiculturalism
Ed’s Note: Following publication of this article, The Conseil d’Etat (State Council), France’s highest administrative court, ruled that burkini bans were “strictly illegal”
France is enhancing its reputation as a racist country. The mayor in Cannes has banned the use of the burkini on its public beaches. Other French cities have followed suit and there is some talk about Quebec doing the same. Everyone knows that adopting such a ban in Quebec would be disastrous.
It’s time to fully discuss why.
The burkini is in essence a full body wetsuit with a head and neck covering and sometimes a sort of over dress. The arguments in favor of such bans in France have been those of secularism, anti-terrorism and ironically, “good morals.” Sadly, these bans only serve to alienate Muslims and encourage the kind of behavior in many non-Muslims that could only be called immoral.
One Montreal lifeguard described the complaints she got when women came to the public pool in burkinis.
Many whiners would claim the burkini wasn’t a real swimsuit and that Muslim women were swimming in their dirty pajamas. The complainers, the most vocal of whom were white middle aged men and seniors, would argue that if Muslim women could wear it to swim, it would encourage others to wear whatever they wanted to the pool. She described one incident she witnessed at a pool in Ville Saint Laurent where one such man spat on a woman wearing a burkini and told her to
“Leave and don’t come back, Dirty Arab!”
When officials at the pool confronted the man and told him to leave, pointing that the first rule of pool use was that it was a safe and respectful environment, he claimed that spitting on her was ok because the woman was already dirty.
This kind of behavior is only going to increase if a burkini ban is imposed as bigots will see such a law as carte blanche to continue to express their hate. Fortunately, Quebec and Canada have laws against imposing a ban like those in France and any such ban would surely be challenged in the courts the moment the government would try to enforce it.
First, we have the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of the Canadian Constitution and is therefore among the highest, most entrenched laws in Canada.
The Charter not only guarantees freedom of conscience and religion, but also the right “to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability” (my underlines).
The law applies to any and all actions by the government and anyone acting on the government’s behalf. If a law is successfully challenged under the Canadian Charter, the courts will strike it down or keep it in place to avoid chaos, thus giving the government a chance to enact another law that better conforms to the Charter.
The Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms also has protections against the laws like burkini bans.
The Quebec Charter is considered a quasi-constitutional law, meaning that though it’s not entrenched in the constitution and was enacted like any other law, it is considered one of the highest laws in the province and is enforced as such. Unlike the Canadian Charter, the Quebec Charter applies not only to the government and anyone acting on its behalf, but also to private parties.
The Quebec Charter guarantees “freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.” It also guarantees freedom from discrimination, distinction, and exclusion based on race, colour, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap. Since the burkini is an expression of one’s faith and culture, the right to wear it would certainly be protected under the Quebec Charter, which means that the government and any private establishment that would bar women wearing it would be breaking the law.
Whenever bans of anything religious are brought up, there is always someone who raises a secularist feminist argument. They’ll claim that such bans are good for women because they’ll free them from dress codes that oppress them.
The problem is that bans like these don’t free women.
They rob women of their sense of agency.
If a faith or culture, be it strict Islam, Mormonism, or Satmar Judaism, for example, forbids women from doing anything outside the home without being covered from head to toe, any law that keeps them from engaging in activities in those coverings is going to hold them back and make them more reluctant to participate in secular society, not less.
Instead of shaming women for dressing in a way that their faith or culture dictates, we should be expressing friendly curiosity and a sense of welcome.
A woman who feels safe taking a swim in a public pool in a burkini will feel safe going to a library to maybe pick up a copy of The Feminine Mystique, and maybe one day take a self-defense course (if she hasn’t already done these things).
Whether a woman is covered up of her own free will or under the pressure from an abusive family or religious leader is none of anyone’s business unless her safety and the safety of her children (if any) are in jeopardy. The only thing we can do is make sure that all women feel safe enough to make their own choices about their bodies, whether that choice includes remaining covered up or not.
Banning the burkini would only exacerbate tensions between secular society and Muslims in Quebec. After the disaster of the proposed Secular Charter, now is a time to heal rifts, not make them worse.
* Images via WikiMedia Commons
Off all the asinine comments made by Mme Marois in defense of her fatally flawed ‘Québec charte des valeurs’ (daycare workers wearing hijabs are threatening our children, comparing it to Bill 101, etc.) I think the one I want to discuss here is her rather unfortunate using of the French model of “laiçité” as an example for Québec to follow in integrating its Muslim population.
The notion, that French secularist traditions have led to some sort of social harmony between French society and millions of Arab speaking Muslim Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan immigrants, the vast majority of which arrived in France during the post-war period at the invitation of previous French governments to help fill jobs created by the boom of recovery in Europe’s war-torn economies, is simply laughable.
Anyone who has been paying attention to recent French history knows that unemployment rates among the Arabic Muslim minority (one in every 13 French citizens describes themselves as Muslim) are much higher than they are among the general population. There has also been a rise, though not due only to socio-economic conditions, of homegrown terrorism and racial tensions in France’s major cities (for example the riots of Clichy-Sous-Bois back in 2005).
French secularism is very different from North America’s, or even Quebec’s version of the institution, owing to the dramatically different historical, political and legal contexts in which it evolved. Even Marois seems to vaguely grasp this fact, saying that “Quebec will develop its own model based on our values and experiences.”
For starters, France has essentially been thoroughly secular at the governmental level since the French Revolution in 1789. But, more to the point, their version of secularism makes no exceptions for Christian symbolism in the public sector (i.e. no cross hangs in their National Assembly). Also, it should be said, that the measures being proposed by the PQ are not as drastic as those that were imposed in France, where there are no niqabs allowed in public whatsoever, and female students are not even allowed to wear hijabs at state schools.
But Marois’ ignorance of the French model that ostensibly inspired her bill is not confined to French history. She also spectacularly misreads British multiculturalism as a main cause of British terrorism, in the process unwittingly spewing the same claptrap as such noble political parties as the racist British National Party and the ultra-right wing UK Independence Party. I suppose it has never occurred to her to look at the rest of Canada as a successful model of multiculturalism?
Marois either doesn’t appreciate the obvious differences in context between Western Europeans societies and ours with respect to integrating religious minorities, or doesn’t care to. Irrespective, she will pursue her destructive agenda to the bitter end.
Perhaps we on the federalist side of the political spectrum should rejoice. This could be the final nail in the coffin for an already out-of-touch government with no economic or job creation strategy to speak of. Maybe one day we will look back on this moment as the kind of desperate gamble to remain relevant that resulted in the Republican Party in the US becoming beholden to the overwhelmingly white lunatic fringe of right wing politics that the Tea Party represents in that country.
But when we see the hatred, taking some of its cues from the rhetoric of the Parti Quebecois, starting to poison everyday life the way it did for the victim of a racist tirade on a bus in Montreal recently, it’s awfully hard to feel smug about the situation.
Pauline Marois blames multiculturalism for bombings and violence in England.
“They are punching each other and throwing bombs because it’s multiculturalism,” she said while promoting her government’s proposed Charter of Quebec Values on Friday, “and no one there sees themselves in that society.”
After Quebec politicians and citizens put pressure on Marois, she clarified her statement. By bombing she meant attacking different models of social integration.
While she admitted that France’s model of secularism, responsible for ghettos, racial profiling and riots, “isn’t perfect,” she ignored the Global Migrant Integration Policy Index findings that the UK is only narrowly better than France at integrating immigrants. Canada, by contrast, is ranked third in the world, vastly higher than both countries.
This came a few days after former PQ leader and Quebec Premier Bernard Landry praised France’s state secularism but also failed to mention the brutal xenophobia it fostered. He was announcing that the government would forgo passing Bill 14, which would have stripped bilingual status from municipalities where a majority of the population’s mother tongue is not French among other things, and focus instead on their Charter which would ban public sector workers from wearing religious clothing or symbols.
It’s no surprise the bill didn’t fly with the public. Even the terms anglophone and francophone are becoming archaic and Quebecers don’t want to be confined by such narrow constructs.
The PQ decided to leave English speakers alone and set their sights on an easier target: immigrants and their religion. Unfortunately the Charter has been a bigger hit with the public, but not everyone is happy. Montreal recently voted unanimously to reject the proposal and quite a few media outlets, most of them in English Canada criticized the plan. At the press conference, Landry found himself on the defensive.
“I take pity on some of Canada’s English newspapers,” he blasted back, calling to Anglo media coverage of the secular charter an exercise in “Quebec bashing.” He went on to warn that Canada will “deeply regret” embracing multiculturalism:
“Multiculturalism will lead to more and more problems,” he said, adding that “immigrants themselves are the first victims of multiculturalism.”
Landry continued by attempting to dispel accusations, which were never raised, that the PQ was a party of bigots:
“Do they think our culture minister was born on Ile d’Orleans? It’s (Cameroonian native) Maka Kotto. We (the PQ) elected the first black person in the Quebec national assembly. The Bloc Quebecois elected the first Latino to the Parliament of Canada. They should open their eyes.”
Landry’s message is inconsistent. He dismissed accusations of péquiste bigotry by praising the PQ’s multiculturalism credentials and in the same breath vilified multiculturalism as a national plague. Landry may truly believe he is not a bigot, but he could also be unaware of what being racist, ironic, or disingenuous means.
Landry also claimed that “in the US, you never see a police officer with a turban.” In reality, there are American police and even US Army soldiers who can and do wear them on duty.
Maybe Landry and Marois should just look in their own backyard instead of pulling examples from the states and Europe. Sikhs in the RCMP and the government of Canada can wear turbans, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned Quebec’s ban on kirpas and recently the Canadian Soccer Federation forced their Quebec counterpart to get rid of their ban on religious headwear.
Despite the Charter’s popularity with some people, cracks are showing in the PQ’s cultural shield.