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Quebec’s provincial election campaign doesn’t launch officially for another five months, but last week provided a glimpse of the terrain on which it will be fought.

It is murky and ugly. With polls suggesting the right-of-centre Coalition Avenir Québec’s lead has narrowed, both the CAQ and the sovereigntist Parti Québécois are once again a-froth about identity.

The latest manufactured outrage centres on Sondos Lamrhari, a 17-year-old Montreal-born student who wants to be a police officer when she graduates, and who happens to wear a hijab. She appears to be the only such student in Quebec but hey, there are political points to be scored.

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PQ MNA Agnès Maltais coyly imagined a scenario where a Muslim woman calls police to report a beating after refusing to wear her hijab, and opens the door to find an officer wearing one. Her dog-whistle hypothetical relied entirely on demeaning and false stereotypes about Muslim men.

Not to be outdone, the CAQ’s Nathalie Roy intoned “a patrol car is not a place of worship.” Someone should inform Ms. Roy that in 1996 multiple courts upheld a federal government decision allowing Sikh RCMP officers to wear turbans. Several Canadian police services now also permit hijabs, as do dozens in the United States, Scotland and Australia.

And while the argument is cast as a principled stand for the separation of church and state, the CAQ and PQ seem a lot more eager to target Muslim women than the crucifix hanging in the National Assembly. That gets to stay because it’s a “historical artifact.” Presumably the same applies to the Roman collar worn by some police chaplains in Quebec.

The Liberal government says it supports Ms. Lamrhari’s aspirations, as do others in the province. That’s the only non-hypocritical stance to take on the issue. It is also the only one that demonstrates any self-awareness.

The partisan attacks on Ms. Lamrhari were launched the day after a Quebec City courtroom heard gripping accounts of genuine heroism on the part of the Muslim victims in last year’s racially motivated attack on a mosque.

If only the PQ and the CAQ had half their courage.

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