Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Quebec's Tea Party Moment

Martin Patriquin
New York Times

MONTREAL — In Quebec, Canada’s second most populous province, the governing Parti Québécois plans to prohibit government employees from wearing “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols while on the job. Everyone from judges to teachers would have to doff their hijabs, kippas, niqabs, turbans and outsize crucifixes. Day care centers would be forbidden to serve kosher or halal foods. Government workers would be allowed to cover their faces only for weather-related — not religious — reasons.
Bernard Drainville, the provincial minister responsible for the ban, part of a so-called Charter of Quebec Values, said it was necessary to “recognize and affirm some of the fundamental values that define us as Quebecers.” But far from unifying the province, the issue has underscored the divisions between the chaotic, multicultural island city of Montreal and the mostly white hinterland beyond its shores. 

This may be the unspoken goal of the Parti Québécois, which came in first in provincial elections last year but had to form a minority government. The Parti Québécois’s aim is to remove Quebec from Canada. By targeting Quebec’s religious minorities — in particular, veiled Muslim women, mostly in and around Montreal — the party is rallying its overwhelmingly white Francophone base. The bill has already stirred anti-immigrant resentment: several women’s shelters have reported an uptick in harassment of Muslim women. 

The inspiration for the “charter” comes from France, which in 2004 outlawed the wearing of religious symbols in its school system. It is an odd precedent. For one thing, Muslims make up a minuscule proportion of Quebec’s population: about 1.5 percent, compared with roughly 7 percent in France.