I just became a Quebecer. Not a real Quebecer though. I was born in Northwestern Ontario and I'm Anglophone. I've only lived here for a few months. Despite being here permanently, I'll never be a "real" Quebecer to some.
But, I'm lucky. I don't wear hijab and I don't carry a kirpan. I was raised Catholic and, like my bedroom wall growing up, my National Assembly chambers is adorned with a crucifix. Elections dredge up as many issues that can be dredged so it hasn't surprised me that race, racism, religious tolerance and xenophobia have come up along Québec's election campaign trail. I have been surprised at how blatant it's been.
I'm used to Ontario's elections, where the closest thing to xenophobia was the Progressive Conservatives' reaction to the Liberals' proposed scheme for hiring immigrants.
On August 14, leader of the Parti Québécois Pauline Marois introduced her party's plans to ban religious symbols among public service workers. Muslim women would have to remove their hijab to renew someone's license. Sikh men working within a government department would have to remove their turbans. No word on whether or not a long beard is a religious symbol or just an awesome beard.
In the midst of the announcement, Marois admitted that the Catholic symbol of Jesus crucified on the cross that sits in the National Assembly would stay. So, personal religious observances are bad, but state-sanctioned religious symbols are good.
From former Action démocratique du Québec member of the National Assembly, and current independent candidate Claude Roy who said that Québec needs more Asians and fewer Arabs, to Coalition Avenir du Québec leader Francois Legault talking how young Quebecers should work harder, like Asians, there's been no shortage of attention paid to peoples' races, religions or languages.
The comments and party promises all say, very clearly, that to truly be a Quebecer, you must be Francophone, white and Catholic. Bonus points if your family descended from the Filles du Roi.
This is textbook intolerance and xenophobia.
The threat to Québec's heritage and nationhood isn't a civil servant wearing a hijab. It's the undoing of the social services that have helped Quebec grow into the distinct province it is today. It's increases to daycare fees, proposed by the Liberals. It's tuition fee increases, proposed by the PQ, Liberals and CAQ. It's a lack of language and social integration services that I would access to better fit in.
This xenophobic rhetoric will only create resentment among people who have a right to be frustrated with a depressed economy but who may misplace their frustration towards non-white, non-Francophone Quebecers. Its victims will be the thousands of Quebecers whose personal liberties and freedoms will be eliminated, at the promise of protecting the culture that they're a part of.
In its history, the territory occupied by Québec has only been French for a small amount of time. First Nations inhabited this province since time immemorial and continue to practice and evolve their own traditions, languages and cultures throughout the province.
Marois, Charest and Legault must remember that this land has always been home to different people and languages. And, today, those of us who have come here do so wanting to be part of it; wanting to be Quebecois.
Luckily my government has never defined me and I've been welcomed in Québec City by amazing people. I'll keep struggling to learn French and find employment, and rely on people I've met here for social supports. Unfortunately, it's clear that regardless who wins, those of us who support freedom of religion and oppose racism are going to have our work cut out for us.