On Tuesday, August 14, Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois offered a new plank for her electoral platform: a “Charter of Secularism”, supposedly to guarantee the rights of Quebec residents to live in a society free from religious pressure from the state.
The idea was to make it law that no member of the Quebec government or public service could wear any religious paraphernalia. Let’s set aside for the moment the obvious problem – immediately noted by legal scholars – that this would be a violation of the guarantees to freedom of religion and freedom of expression set out in both the Quebec and Canadian Charters of Freedom.
The fact is, as soon as the PQ started trying to explain what this charter would demand of Quebecers, they started to show their cards. No, they said, you could still wear a crucifix if you were a public servant (“As long as it’s discreet,” said the PQ’s Eric Gamache, “not too big.” He didn’t define “discreet” or “too big”), and naturally the crucifix in the province’s National Assembly would stay up (part of our cultural heritage, they say). There’s been no comment from the PQ about the disparity between having a religious symbol that seems to represent the entire state as Catholic and having individual citizens employed by the state expressing their own religious beliefs on a personal level.
Of course, the people this law would affect would not be white people – it’s about making it illegal to display that you are a Sikh or Muslim, because hijab headscarves and Sikh turbans are, to use Gamache’s obnoxious term, “ostentatious.”
The PQ rolled this new ideology out as part of its introduction of their new candidate for Trois Rivières, Djamila Benhabib, a militant anti-Islamic author and activist born and raised in Algeria. Obviously having a candidate of Arabic extraction was important to the PQ in launching such a clearly racist policy. Which is why it was so funny when Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay, evidently a white supremacist, tore into Benhabib on Paul Arcand’s radio show and turned the whole project on its ear.
“[We’re] going to allow ourselves to be told how to behave, how to respect our culture, by someone who comes here from Algeria, whose name we can’t even pronounce,” seethed Tremblay. He had, apparently, given no thought to how difficult it had been for Cree, Innu and other First Nations in the region that became known as Quebec to pronounce the names of French Europeans who turned up here a few years ago. At press time, a call to Tremblay’s office asking how well he spoke Cree or Innu, and whether he had participated in any of this year’s powwows had gone unreturned.
But in an interview on CBC’s Radio Noon, on Wednesday, August 15, Tremblay clarified that “A Québécois is a person who speaks French and is a Christian.” Perhaps the Grand Council could help educate him by forwarding a copy of their 1998 book Never Without Consent, in which they explain why the distinction of “Québécois” has been problematic since the beginning?
Meanwhile, the PQ has not yet returned our call asking whether the proposed Charter of Secularism would ban Elders from blessing public events in the Eeyou Istchee. It’s nonsense anyway – there’s no way they could make the Charter into law without running afoul of the constitution. But that’s never been the issue. The issue here is the same as it’s always been – white people reminding other white people that they come first in this province, like they have since their forefathers washed up on this continent 500 years ago, convinced like children that because they “discovered” it, the whole place must belong to them.