During my several visits to Quebec, I have been spit upon, hurled insults at my face, not served at restaurants, and ticketed by traffic police for driving while being Ontarian. I do not speak French and I am not a Francophone.
If my experience of Quebec ended with just this story, and with the recent developments of the minority Parti Québécois proposed plan to introduce the Charter of Values as law in Quebec, I would not be hard pressed to imagine the people of Quebec to be one of the most bigoted and unfriendly specimens of the human race the world has ever seen. But I love Quebec. I have continued to visit despite such incidents (I do rent a vehicle in Quebec with Quebec plates now. Done wonders to my bank account).
That is because my experience tells only half the story. My brother on the other hand speaks French fluently and is Francophone Ontarian. He has not encountered any of my experiences. On the contrary, he has never felt a stronger camaraderie and brotherliness anywhere else in Canada, despite being a non-native resident.
Conclusion: The folks in La belle province are very touchy-feely over their language and preservation of identity. I am fine with that.
I have been following the developments of this proposed Charter of Values legislation introduced by Pauline Marois' PQ government. In short, the legislation, when passed, will ban religious headgear and other ornaments worn by civil servants at work. The debate rages on in Canada on the constitutionality and practicality of this proposed legislation. This law, when passed, will mostly affect select minority groups (Sikhs, Jews wearing the Kippah, and Muslims who adorn the Niqab, Hijab or Burka). The purpose of this legislation is intended to separate religion from state (or secular nation in this instance) and conform to the Quebec francophone identity (however the latter may be defined).
I cannot comment on the constitutionality aspect. I can, however, comment on the practicality aspect. Religious adornment lies in the grey area of actual religious mandate and cultural tradition. It might be the same for Kippah wearing Jews, but we all know that most Jews do not wear the Kippah to work. Likewise, the Niqab, Hijab and Burka are more a function of indoctrinated cultural traditions than religious mandate. In other words, wearing of headgear and other religious adornments are optional. However, for the Sikhs, wearing the turban is a both a cultural tradition and religious mandate. Not wearing it is not optional (for the most part). How Quebec is going to manage and implement and enforce such a law behooves me and most Canadians. But this is not the point of this post.
Most of the public opinion and that of the media is antagonistic towards this proposal. I find it amusing to see the gamut of rationales and comparisons made - anywhere from utter stupidity of a confused minority government struggling to retain its relevance among its constituents to the emergence of the 21st century's answer to the Third Reich. Honestly, I think all of them are wrong.
The Point that most Canadians do not see or understand is that the intention behind proposed legislation may in fact be just, valid, and necessary for the continuation of the multi-cultural identify of Canada. Allow me to explain.
Let us assume here for arguments sake that the true intention for the proposed law is indeed to create a conformist francophone identity in Quebec. This by and itself is a benign intention. Most nations have a concept of identity. Most cultures within a given nation have sub-identities, the latter being the reason for creation of States (eg. in India, the largest secular democracy, the various States to date and counting are created not out of economic considerations but for cultural identity demarcations).
In most Arab nations in the Middle East, conformity to national and religious identity is enforced by law and breach is sometimes even punishable by death. For instance, The Sultanate of Oman launched a program back in the late 80's called 'Omanization', whereby the gradual elimination of expatriate workers and replacement by their Omani counterparts began earnestly to protect the cultural, economic and religious values of the nation. Similar policies have been introduced by the neighboring Gulf nations in varying degrees. In these nations, the expatriate workers (from field labor to senior management) have no real rights. They work for fixed pay, their passports are usually retained by Human Resource personnel, and their jobs can be terminated at any time without any severance and they can be deported from the country within 24 hours. Dress codes at work are strictly mandated and enforced by the Ministry of Labor. Yet the allure for jobs in such nations remains strong even today. Expatriate workers know exactly what to expect and what they are in for when taking on such foreign assignments.
There is no public outcry from expatriates, no interference from respective Embassies (including Canada), and no UN bodies admonishing such policies. In other words, a government, representing the true intentions of the will of its people, is morally obligated to enforce and protect whatever it deems critical to its identity and culture. In this regard, Quebec's proposal is really not that different from other nations. Realistically, is it that wrong to require public servants to wear and conform to a dress code that adheres to Quebec values first and to personal religious convictions second?
If the next flavor of Quebec is to have all its public servants dress up in the current rendition of the Daft Punk band's helmet (see here for image) so be it. If Alberta can mandate the wearing of the official white cowboy hat for ceremonial functions, why can't Quebec? Of course, there remains the issue of practicality in enforcement as I stated previously.
Now let us assume that the PQ party's true motive behind the Charter is indeed to restrict civil liberties of certain religious minorities living there. In that case, I wonder why the protesters are even protesting to continue to remain in a place where they are not really wanted. The rest of the nation has taken this opportunity to open their doors and welcome any disenfranchised resident from Quebec. So why not move where you can strike gold. Canada is a big welcoming country after all.
In the end, the parties at the negotiation table have to play a fair game. If certain religious groups in Quebec want to preserve their heritage and cultural identity through external adornments, should not the same be accorded to rest of Quebecois as well? There are other charters of values that Quebec has pioneered, such as equality among same sex couples. I ask, how accommodating to such Quebec values will the minority groups be. Not much, if at all.
I have come across only two media articles that actually deliver a realistic counter-point to the overwhelming voice of detractors of the proposed law. Here is one of them.
In part 1 of this two-series post, I make the case for why the Charter of Values proposed legislation is just, albeit impractical. In part 2, I will take you on a journey to the inner depths of the first generation immigrants in Canada to reveal the identity crisis that is developing among them and the complacent attitude of all other Canadians toward multi-culturalism, which in my opinion if left unchecked, may eventually turn Canada in to one of the most dangerous nations of the world.