Limiting freedoms for political expediency is a slippery slope

Imposing restrictions that prevent a group of people from accessing government services based on race, religion, gender or a minority designation is wrong. It’s really that simple. Any attempt to dress up justification for imposing such restrictions must meet a very high bar to pass muster. Quebec’s Bill 62 does not come close to meeting such a bar—it is an odious piece of political expediency whose taint will linger on all Canadians by association.

There are those that will tell you that “but everyone is doing it.” They will point to the number of nations that have outlawed strict Middle Eastern dress such as the hijab or the niqab and cite concerns of national security to legitimize the imposition of dress codes for citizens. Hello! This is Canada, a place where scarfs and balaclavas are routine winter face coverings, not the couture of armed robbery suspects or terrorists. The legislation is aimed at a (very) small group of Muslim women who adopt a strict dress code as a matter of cultural modesty and it has nothing to do with security or secularism or any other of the bogus rationales being put forward to justify the racism (or culturalism—should one support the alt-right hair splitting nonsensical semantic defence) underlying this law.

Bill 62 has been touted by the Liberal government of Philip Coullaird as a move to secularize the public service. They give it the typical mealy mouthed title of “An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality and, in particular, to provide a framework for requests for accommodations on religious grounds in certain bodies” that might be right at home in a dystopian tome by George Orwell.

This bill is a sop to the worst of reactionary tendencies to be found in an insular and somewhat paranoid community that has held back Quebec for generations in the name of cultural purity and protecting the motherland—shame on those Quebec politicians who are playing to those cards and shame on our prime minister for not immediately standing up and calling out Bill 62 and its supporters for what they are. They should not be allowed to hide behind their justifications and misdirection for the sake of political games.

There is no question that the majority of Canadians, even in this province, arguably our nations most culturally diverse and tolerant component, would support a similar ban here. The majority is wrong—it happens in a free and democratic society far more often than we would like to believe. But when it does, those who recognize that a government’s actions are wrong must stand up and speak out. They must make every effort to bring their fellow citizens’ to their senses and swim earnestly against the rising populist tide that threatens to engulf and subvert our rights and freedoms in the name of security or even secularism and the separation of church and state.

Politicians who play to the whims of populism play with fire, as the Liberal government of Quebec is learning as they attempt to massage this outrageous piece of legislation into something that might survive the scrutiny before the Canadian Supreme Court under the full glare of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Instead of co-opting the separatist reactionaries in Quebec, the Liberal backpedaling has given their opponents even more ammunition by which to pummel them. It was a no win political ploy from the outset.

Insisting that everyone hide their cultural differences to blend into a secularist society that reflects most closely the white middle class society that has formed the social elite in this country for generations should be an anathema to those whose dream of Canada is of a free and democratic society—and should particularly fly counter to the hopes and dreams of those Quebecois who must make their way in continent in which they are very much the minority.

Bill 62 is an act of legislative political cowardice that does no credit to Quebec or to Canada—and therein lies the greatest irony—by attacking a group of devout Muslim women who number in the dozens at most in the name of security, the Quebec government has placed a target on the backs of its citizens, a target that beckons to those very Muslim extremists the bill purports to combat.

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