Last week the Quebec Soccer Federation decided to maintain its ban on Sikh turbans, a policy that began its implementation around the province last year. The religious headgear worn by Sikh men allegedly poses a safety threat when worn on the pitch.
This is, of course, a testament to Quebec’s distinct-society mantra, as the Canadian Soccer Association has been calling for provincial associations to allow turbans on the pitch since April. The CSA issued a statement late last week reaffirming its position that turbans should be allowed on the pitch, and in a much-anticipated tipping point, suspended the QSF over its turban stance on Monday night.
With Quebec politicians of every stripe refusing to wade into the apparent controversy of letting children play a game they love, we Quebeckers need to get introspective and ask ourselves what kind of a distinct society we have become. Quebec is the only province to explicitly denounce the federal policy of multiculturalism. This is reflected in a recent poll commissioned by the Quebec government, revealing that 81 per cent of Quebeckers support making no accommodations for religious dress in a sporting situation. Thus it should come as no surprise that the QSF would partake in the targeted discrimination towards one religious group.
The QSF is claiming that its decision is in line with FIFA, the international soccer organization that oversees major international tournaments. Yes, the same organization that mandates regular blood-doping tests for its players is being cited as a justification for preventing children from playing in a recreational league. I can only assume the QSF will ensure that little Pierre and Marie-Claude will be subject to regular blood tests any day now.
It should be pointed out that the very FIFA rule the QSF is citing as justification calls for the referee’s discretion in the matter, and not an all-out ban. Therein lies the core of Quebec’s intolerance: an incongruence between the set of rules for pure laine Quebeckers – those with exclusively French Canadian ancestry – and those for the rest of us. Clearly, the QSF does not strictly enforce all FIFA rules in their recreational leagues, as it would be arduous and entirely unnecessary. Yet, when applied to Sikhs, it has decided to adopt the most rigorous interpretation of the rules.
Having recently made international headlines for the “pastagate” scandal, Quebec is clearly no stranger to controversy. Culminating in the resignation of the head of the Office Québécois de la langue française, colloquially referred to as the language police, it seemed as though sending an official warning to an Italian restaurant for having the word “pasta” on its menu was a line in the sand for many Quebeckers. Unfortunately, however, it was clear that it was not, as Bill 14, which expands the language restrictions in Bill 101, passed second reading in the National Assembly. Bill 14, which has received a condemnation from the Quebec Bar Association, has the effect of trampling on the basic civil liberties of citizens all in the name of linguistic purity.
Voted in with a razor-thin minority, the separatist Parti Québécois have been kindling the culture wars into an all-out inferno. Set to unveil a Charter of Quebec Values this fall, the PQ government seeks to ban all religious dress and symbols from public institutions – with the exception of those representing Catholicism. Thus, whereas hijabs and yarmulkes would not be allowed, crucifixes would be.
The particularly vexing aspect of all of this is that Quebec used to be a bastion of inclusiveness and an ardent defender of civil rights. In 1832 it granted Jewish citizens equal rights under the law, the first jurisdiction under the British Crown to do so. Quebec was the land that welcomed Jackie Robinson at a time when everybody else failed to step up to the racial-equality plate. While the rest of Canada was still having a moral dilemma regarding equal protection for same-sex couples, Quebec led the charge.
Hitherto, as reasonable-accommodation debates have come to occupy the forefront of our political discourse, there has been a perceptible shift among politicians, pundits and the populace. Obsessions with linguistic and cultural purity, xenophobia and generalized Franco-supremacy are at an all-time high in the province. With an entire subset of children quite literally forced to watch idly from the sidelines as their peers play on, it would seem as though Quebec has finally reached the lowest common denominator of intolerance. Distinct society indeed.
Supriya Dwivedi is pursuing graduate legal studies and is a radio talk show host for CJAD 800 in Montreal. You can follow her on Twitter @supriyadwivedi