06/05/2013 12:56 EDT | Updated 08/05/2013 05:12 EDT

Quebec's Turban Ban Is About Xenophobia, Not Safety

The Quebec Soccer Federation's (QSF) recent decision to ban all Sikh children wearing turbans from playing soccer in the league was an extremely disappointing one for me, but not a surprising one.

Quebec has increasingly become confused in its desire to retain an image of itself as a secular state. Unfortunately, all it's managed to do lately is become the poster child, nationally and internationally, of intolerance and xenophobia.

Citing FIFA, the international governing board, who neither bans nor allows turbans, the QSF held a teleconference on Monday to explain its weekend decision to uphold a ban on turbans. A decision, it should be noted, that is exclusive to Quebec. Yay, distinct society!

When Brigitte Frot, the director general of the provincial association, was asked what she would tell a young boy in a turban, who shows up to register to play soccer with his friends, she nonchalantly brushed off the question with a flippant: "They can play in their own backyard."


So much for the successful integration and retention of immigrants in this province. Apparently, the message is loud and clear: if you are not willing to assimilate, you don't get to play. In every possible way.

It's absurd that immigrants are being wooed to this province because the birth rate is perilously low and then are looked upon suspiciously because they don't look or act like everybody else.

The main reason for the ban is safety. This I can completely understand. Because in a game rife with potential for head injuries, ankle sprains, ACL tears and groin pulls, nothing says "dangerous" like a turban made of... cloth.

A headpiece, I may add, that is legally worn by Sikh police officers in the Royal Mounted Police and by Sikh soldiers in the Canadian military.

So, basically turbans are accepted in situations that could potentially be life and death, but kicking a ball around in a low-level recreational league may pose potentially fatal risks, and thank goodness that the QSF is all-knowing and all-wise, keeping our children from such dangers.

Only thing is, they have no idea what they're saving us from.

When asked how many injuries have been linked to turban-wearing soccer players, Frot replied with this jewel of a reply: "We don't know. And because we don't know, we don't want to take any chances."

Ah. That settles it then. Cue the face palm.

The way I see it, the new rule is based on nothing concrete; nothing but unfounded fears and anecdotal evidence. It's a discriminatory solution to a problem that doesn't even exist.

It's not the first time religious headgear has been an issue on the soccer field. In 2011, a teen girl was banned from working as a soccer referee while wearing a hijab. The ruling was eventually overturned. One hopes (and it's quite likely) that this ruling will, as well.

Even though I'm an atheist, I have a strong aversive reaction to any government attempts to stifle people's religion. A secular state does not necessitate the banning of visible symbols of one's faith, as long as they do not infringe on other people's freedoms and safety. First off, the point of secularism means that no religion should have any special status in society, not that people should be told what to wear -- or in this case, what not to wear.

Besides, this was never about safety, and people should stop insulting my intelligence by claiming that it is. It's first and foremost about assimilation. It's about Quebec imposing its views of what constitutes appropriate and acceptable. That shouldn't sit well with people who pride themselves on being inclusionary and open-minded.

A few years ago, when Quebec proposed legislation that sought to ban the niqab from Quebec government offices, the education system and healthcare (even though only a few hundred of women who wear face coverings in the entire country), Salam Elmenyawi, head of the Muslim Council of Montreal, stated, in an interview accorded to Margaret Hartmann of Jezebel, that by forcing Muslim women to choose between their religious beliefs and their desire to be Canadian citizens, the government is, "sending a message that we're watching you and we're going to tell you which parts of your religion are acceptable and which are not."

Make no mistake; that's exactly what's taking place here again with the QSF turban ban.

Quebec's staunch commitment to secularism has always been inconsistent and hypocritical to say the least. One can hardly demand that visible symbols of one's faith are limited and/or removed from public places, while a gigantic cross still looms over the City of Montreal and a cross hangs on the walls of the National Assembly.

If we want to preach secularism, it should be all or nothing. Don't just purge some religious symbols, while protecting others because yours are deemed acceptable.

If the turban does not infringe on the rights of others, does not present an unfair advantage to the player and is not a safety issue, than a person should be allowed to wear it. Why should we be making a judgment call on someone else's choices based on our cultural beliefs and prejudices -- religious or otherwise?

Is the burka really a security issue (the exact reason touted for the necessity of Bill 94 to be legislated, by the way), or does it simply offend some people's Christian, overwhelmingly white sensibilities?

This isn't about safety or even about a push for secularism. This is a blatantly discriminatory move, introduced via the guise of Big Brother looking out for your children, but squarely aimed at pointing fingers.

Adapt. Assimilate. Act like us. Or you don't get to play.

It's time Quebec started thinking beyond the narrow confines of what constitutes "us" and "them" and realized that the new face of this province will never look like the one it had in the past.

It's possible to celebrate your differences, without trampling on everyone else's, and it's time that all Quebecers of all cultures who are brave enough and lucid enough to understand this to be true denounce such blatantly xenophobic measures.

Turban Competition