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Quebec’s New Secularism Law: Religious Discrimination or Not?

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A worker in a Canadian pre-school wearing a niqab (Photo: John Goddard)
A worker in a Canadian pre-school wearing a niqab (Photo: John Goddard)

What to make of Quebec’s new secularism law, Bill 21, which bars public school teachers, government lawyers, judges, police officers prison guards and others from wearing religious symbols while at work?

The law is being celebrated by some — the French have always embraced their unique form of secularism, laïcité, which is quite different from the American concept of separation of church and state.

“Cultural diversity is desirable in a society insofar as practices accord with that society’s basic principles. Face cover in public service should offend us.

“That it is a Muslim custom is neither here nor there. It is not racist to adopt policies that will encourage newcomers from less gender-enlightened cultures to integrate sooner rather than later, especially when integration to a common culture rather than ‘post-nationalism’ is the collective value,” National Post columnist Barbara Kay writes.

“The issue of visible religious symbols is thornier,” she adds. “Critics see the law as conceived in an anti-Muslim spirit. They are half right. The hijab is doubtless a major sticking point for Quebec’s ‘values’ activists. But then, unlike the others, the hijab is far more than a merely religious symbol. Many girls and women who wear the hijab are apolitical, but the hijab can be, and often has been, a rallying instrument for political Islam.”

The law has also been vigorously protested by others who call it discriminatory. “[The bill] prohibits those whose faith obliges them to wear such symbols from working in those positions. Or if we are really being frank, that bars them to observant Muslims — also Sikhs and some Jews, but really Muslims [my emphasis],” writes National Post correspondent Andrew Coyne.

In my opinion, Bill 21 is a direct result of the pandering by the government of Canada to the vote bank of Muslims and allowing them unreasonable accommodation which has not been granted to any other community.

For example: holding Friday congregational prayers in public schools in which the girls are relegated to the back of the room, putting foot baths in university washrooms, making exclusive prayer spaces in public buildings for Muslims and so on.

All this has created a backlash.

In the end, where did it lead to? The niqab (face veil) debate, which is a no-win situation. If you ban the niqab, you are playing into the victim ideology of the Islamists. They then cry Islamophobia and consider themselves targets of racism and bigotry. If they win the debate and the niqab is not banned as in this bill, they then push for more unreasonable accommodation.

This is the downside on Bill 21. It penalizes everyone. What the Canadian government should be doing is focusing on free speech and fighting radical ideologies that are festering in Canada. It’s a much bigger problem.

Let us know what you think of Quebec’s new secularism law by clicking here.

 

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Raheel Raza

Raheel Raza is ​an adviser to Clarion Project. ​She is an award-winning author, journalist and filmmaker on the topics of jihad and sharia. She is president of The Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, and an activist for human rights, gender equality, and diversity.

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