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Saeed Selvam Headshot

Pauline Marois Just Doesn't Get Multiculturalism -- or Canada

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There's a drastic need for change in Canadian politics, even more so in Quebec. Premier Pauline Marois' proposal to ban religious symbols in public sector settings like schools, hospitals and daycares is as unconstitutional as it is offensive to every religious minority in Quebec and across the nation.

It's well known and accepted that Quebec's equal right to preservation of French culture, values and history is a cardinal priority of the Parti Québécois and a majority of Quebecers -- nothing wrong with that. But a ban on religious symbolism, essentially a ban on expression and identity is a violation of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms under Section 2 which specifically states a Canadian's right to freedom of religion and expression among others, no matter where you are, what day of the week it is or what happens in other countries that are nowhere near analogous to yours.

Marois' justification for a "more secular" government is, "In England, they get into fights and throw bombs at one another because of multiculturalism and people get lost in that type of a society." That type of society? The cause of civil, religious and ethno-racial unrest in England is so far removed from Canada both in comparison and culture that it's laughable to compare the two. For example, multiculturalism should never be looked at as a grand experiment or trial-run -- unfortunately it was in England.

Increased immigration coupled with no social infrastructure or policies to ensure effective integration of new immigrants contributed to the ghettoization of many low-income neighbourhoods and a rise in distrust between minoritized communities and the state. Lack of effective social policies and federal funding that failed to address racism, Islamophobia and high unemployment only served to agitate the short term multiculturalism 'pilot project' that then Prime Minister David Cameron and other European leaders declared, a massive "failure".

Here's the thing though. We're not England, we're not France, we're not Europe. We're Canada.

Policies in Canada immediately following the inception of the Charter in 1982 helped to promote integration, provide funding and rapid settlement services to newcomers. Defenders of the Charter fought to ensure a constant respect for diversity and its promotion at all levels of government, in all provinces, at all times. The creation of human rights commissions at the provincial and federal levels displayed the government's sincerity in upholding the law of the land. This was not without some growing-pains and scars along the way, some of which we can still see in many Canadian cities today, but we've overcome much along the way in our search for peace, order and good government.

It's a long-term process, not perfect in Canada, but far better than many Western countries if not the best I've seen. By restricting one's freedom of religion or expression in Quebec, Ms. Marois is not making her government more secular, she's making it more polarized. An all-out assault on religious symbolism is an assault on personal identity, attempting to isolate and discriminate against the individual who is not fully conformed to the religious norm of the province attempting to make them feel unwelcome, unwanted; tolerated but not accepted. The minoritized individual then feels like they're a "guest" in their own country, leading to much of the problems and challenges that European countries currently face.

This is not our Canada.

If Ms. Marois is worried about extremism, she should start by tackling systemic racism and discrimination first, not with banning a turban or hijab to which she points out is a sign of "submission." The hijab is no more a sign of submission than a uniform is a sign of submission to an employer. In Western democracies it's worn by choice. What's in fact extreme is to attempt to pass legislation that blatantly violates Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms with no proper justification or factual basis. Since her stated objective was "not to provoke," her failure to do so has already spoilt her political reputation and branded her as a pseudo-right wing-extremist, a Tea Party leader of sorts committed to assimilating the non-French despite the fact that religion, nationality and politics are three separate things.

It's interesting, whenever I went over for dinner to introduce myself to a girlfriend's parents, I was forced to heed the old warning passed down by generations of wise young men before me, "there are two topics you never discuss at dinner -- religion and politics."

I don't think I'll be having dinner at Ms. Marois' anytime soon.

FIFA On Quebec's Turban Ban
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