08/15/2012 05:04 EDT | Updated 10/15/2012 05:12 EDT

In Quebec You Might Soon be Forced to Trade Your Hijab for a Crucifix


Pauline Marois and the Parti Québécois (PQ), the current front-runner in a three-way race to form Quebec's next government, have unveiled some disconcerting aspects of their would-be mandate: all overt religious symbols would be banned from public institutions... except for Catholic religious symbols.

In what the PQ is calling a Charter of Secularism, Muslim headscarves known as the hijab would be banned, whereas crucifixes worn as necklaces and Christmas trees would be allowed. Moreover, the crucifix that hangs on the wall of the National Assembly would be permitted to stay, because according to Marois, the crucifix is an important aspect of Québécois heritage.

I suppose Marois did not do too well in her grade 10 history class, otherwise she would be well aware of the fact that the crucifix only became a part of the National Assembly in 1936 under Maurice Duplessis. Hardly making the cross an entrenched part of Québécois heritage.

Of course, in true PQ fashion, this ban on religious symbols would also find its way to other symbols they arbitrarily deem inappropriate, such as some references to the British monarchy. While not overtly religious, references to the British Crown still happen to stick in the PQ's craw, and that's apparently enough to erratically start disallowing certain symbols while keeping others.

This should come as no surprise, considering the province's pride and joy is a repressive and Draconian language law, which the PQ is consistently trying to strengthen in one way or another. Additionally, the PQ is known for sayings such as: "Religious freedom exists but there are other values. For instance, multiculturalism is not a Quebec value. It may be a Canadian one but it is not a Quebec one." Never mind the fact that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms officially recognizes Canada's multicultural heritage under section 27; ardent supporters of Quebec sovereignty choose to ignore this detail.

Anglophones and Allophones are often criticized for unfairly categorizing separatists in Quebec in general, and the Parti Québécois base in particular, as overtly bigoted and prejudiced towards other ethnic, religious or linguistic groups. In fact, at the start of this election campaign, a member of the Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ), Kamal Lutfi, was dropped as a candidate for insinuating exactly that over Twitter. Lutfi accused the separatist movement in the province of trying to eradicate multiculturalism, as he cited the broad-spectrum contempt that is felt for other cultures and religions as evidence.

The CAQ's leader, François Legault, was in no mood for calling out spades as spades, as his camp was quick to publicly denounce Lutfi's comments as unwelcome within the CAQ. Surely, if past comments by prominent PQ members are not enough to substantiate this claim of intolerance amongst the PQ base, then the current climate of the PQ campaign should be sufficient to now validate Lutfi's allegations.

As an atheist, I welcome separating religion and government; a secular government is a hallmark of a civilized society. But that is not what the PQ is doing here. Rather, they are once again marginalizing a segment of the Quebec population because they are not seen as being an important fabric of Quebec's so-called distinct society. They are in essence employing a selective secularism, in that all religious symbols that are not Catholic are not welcome, which is analogous to the policies of many authoritarian Islamic nations.

The xenophobic and francosupremacist rhetoric that has plagued the PQ base for years is now ever more unambiguous, which is frightening in and of itself. What I find truly alarming, however, is that the PQ is poised to form the next government, which can only mean that in addition to lengthy and costly constitutional battles with Ottawa, certain Quebecers can now be expected to have their basic civil liberties trampled on in order to appease an increasingly intolerant voting population. Vive le Québec libre indeed.