Like the rest of the country, I basked in the euphoria of the Toronto Raptors championship win. It was more than a sports story. It captured the imagination of Canada, and in some ways, the Canada reimagined itself. The panoply of humanity, from the heart of Toronto to the multitude of Jurassic Parks across the land, spoke raucously to the ascendancy of inclusiveness. When trolls launched racist screeds against superfan Nav Bhatia, the chorus on social media essentially responded in unison: “Hell no, he’s my bro”.
It didn’t matter where you were from, what language you spoke, what you wore on your head, the colour of your skin or your politics. The Raptors’ story became our very own.
For those of a certain age, the 1972 Summit Series comes to mind – when this country’s collective identity last melded with the fortunes of a sports team. We were in the throes of the Cold War and smarting from the 1971 FLQ crisis. We placed our hopes in professional hockey players to rise to the challenge and, in the process, discovered the uniting force of hockey.
On a smaller scale, this is how I felt when the Montreal Canadiens went on their four-year Stanley Cup run in the late 70s. English, French, separatist, federalist, immigrant, Québécois-de-souche – it did not matter. We all cheered as one, soaking in the exuberance of the parades, side-by-side.
The Raptors victory shines a bright, beautiful light on Canada’s ability to come together and celebrate our diversity. That is, of course, until Quebec comes into focus.
This juxtaposition was clear the day after the Raptors’ championship win. With jubilation across the country, Quebec Premier François Legault announced the closure of debate on Bill 21. Over the weekend, plans were being made for a Toronto parade that would include the panoply of humanity. Meanwhile, Quebec politicians passed Bill 21, overriding the Constitution to create a two-tier society where full opportunities for government employment will be denied to some.
The spirit of inclusiveness jostling through the rest of Canada has been stopped dead in its tracks at the Quebec border.
During Friday’s news conference, Mr. Legault insisted that the new law will curb extremism. How will banning religious symbols impede the spread of white supremacism? Oh wait – that’s not what he meant. He wasn’t referring to right-wing extremism, which is a far greater threat to safety and democracy.
Inclusiveness is the best way to prevent people from nursing grudges rooted in exclusion. Quebec Muslim youth who have been radicalized over the past few years pointed to the PQ’s proposed ban of “conspicuous” religious symbols as a clear sign that they were not welcome. Why invest in a society that rejects you for who you are? Instead, we should communicate the following to all young people: bring your talents, your passion, your dreams to help build a vibrant community.
One constant refrain during the Bill 21 debate was that the hijab is a sign of political Islam, a symbol of women’s oppression and the first step toward implementation of sharia. The voices of women who actually wore the hijab were irrelevant. The bill will liberate these women by telling them what they can wear and what profession they can enter, because, after all, they cannot think for themselves. Sounds a lot like the strictures of the Catholic Church that Quebeckers rejected during the Quiet Revolution. Muslim men who sport a beard are free to work wherever they want. Welcome to “poutine feminism” – with its distinct Quebec roots.
Last week, while visiting Montreal, I witnessed a horrific accident. While crossing a street, an elderly woman was struck by an SUV accelerating into a turn. Thankfully, she was not seriously hurt. Citizens stopped to help and direct traffic until help arrived. I gave a statement to the police.
And then I thought: What if I’m called to testify and denied the opportunity to do so because of my hijab? Will the court be deemed a space laique, where no religious symbols are allowed? Twice, Quebec judges have unsuccessfully tried to bar women with hijabs for that very reason. Will judges be emboldened to try again? In the future, a turbaned Sikh police officer cannot take a witness statement; an observant Jewish lawyer won’t be allowed to prosecute a case on behalf of the province.
As Quebec marches to its own tune of folly (“religious dress” police are on the horizon), Canadians should not remain silent while their fellow citizens are denied basic rights. It would be contrary to inclusiveness.
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