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LYSIANE GAGNON

Could Quebec go further than France? Add to ...

The ideology behind the Charter of Quebec Values is a direct import from France. This is a mistake on two counts.

First, the mimicry ignores Quebec’s own traditions, which are largely modelled on North American liberal values. Second, the French immigration “model” doesn’t work.

France has a long history of religious wars. Throughout the 19th century, the country was devastated by recurrent bloody fights between republicans and the combined forces of the monarchists, army and church. It didn’t end until 1905, with the law proclaiming separation of church and state.

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By contrast, Quebec lived rather peacefully under the tutelage of the Roman Catholic Church. It crumbled gradually, without much of a bang, amid a very quiet “revolution” indeed.

Because of its tormented history, France has a strong tradition of secularism. But this has never been the case in Quebec. Throughout history, many French-Canadian writers and politicians were fiercely anticlerical and called for the neutrality of the state, but dogmatic secularism was a rather unknown concept until about five years ago, when it started to be used as a defensive strategy by those who felt threatened by the province’s increasingly visible Muslim immigrants.

French secularism, at first directed against the Catholic Church, now serves to cover a widespread current of Islamophobia. Secularism, as well as the ideal of gender equality, are no longer just the domain of the left.

Those who argue that the Charter of Quebec Values was inspired by feminism must be joking. In Quebec, gender equality and women rights are already fully protected. The only rights threatened nowadays are those of the Muslim women whom the charter would prevent from getting or keeping a job in the province’s public service or school system because of their religious head wear. No, the charter’s origins lie in the identity politics embraced by a government desperate to win a majority by appealing to the visceral insecurities of old-stock francophones.

As a life-long lover of France, I’ve seen the damage caused by its punitive laws, which only serve to reinforce Muslims’ feelings of exclusion.

France shows little regard for freedom of religion. Not only are schoolgirls forbidden to wear head scarves, but an official body responsible for “integration” now recommends that women wearing Islamic veils be banned from universities.

The restrictions extend to the public space. If she wears a niqab, a woman who is merely returning home from the supermarket can be arrested for questioning and, if she resists, brought in handcuffs to the police commissariat. Such incidents inflame France’s tight-knit Muslim urban ghettos, which in recent years have seen more than their share of riots involving young North African immigrants.

The French “model,” bent on erasing diversity, doesn’t lead to integration. Sometimes only because of their names, French citizens of North African origin still have trouble finding jobs and renting apartments outside the dismal suburbs where their immigrant families have been parked. Among the tens of thousands of elected and appointed officials that France counts at every level of its overblown public bureaucracy, there are a mere handful of Muslims.

Unbelievably, though, Quebec wants to go even further than France. The charter’s ultimate goal is to ban religious signs from the entire public sector, from the lowest clerical jobs to the universities. If this charter is ever implemented, Quebec would rob France of its current title as the society with the most repressive anti-religious legislation in the democratic world.

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