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Quebec Premier Pauline Marois responds to questions on June 4, 2013, at the legislature in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois responds to questions on June 4, 2013, at the legislature in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Globe Editorial: First Take

Marois could have stayed silent on turban ban. But of course she didn’t Add to ...

When it comes to Quebec independence, all mole hills are mountains. The fact that Premier Pauline Marois has gravely intoned that the Quebec Soccer Federation is an “autonomous” body “not subject to the Canadian federation” is just the latest evidence. No one should have expected her to do otherwise. Her rote response goes to the heart of the problem that lies behind the ban on turbans in recreational soccer in Quebec: the reflexive defensiveness of a nationalist movement that has trained itself to see threats everywhere.

Does Mme. Marois really want to debate the jurisdictional boundaries of recreational soccer governorship? Does she see it as a slippery slope that could lead to an attempted takeover of the Quebec Ringette association by Ringette Saskatchewan?

The answer is no. What Mme. Marois has done is reach for the nearest available controversy and graft it onto the narrative of Quebec independence, and it bothers her not a whit that the controversy is an especially petty case of xenophobia or that she has isolated herself and her province.

To recap, the Quebec Soccer Federation backed itself into a corner by banning the light turbans worn by observant Sikhs when playing soccer. Federation officials contend that the turbans pose a safety hazard but have no evidence for the claim other than to say that FIFA, the international soccer body, does not specifically allow turbans to be worn during matches. The safety claim is an empty one.

The consensus is that the ban is a symptom of Quebec’s unease with the accommodation of outsiders. The upshot is that hundreds of Sikh children and young adults can’t play recreational soccer in Quebec this summer. The Canadian Soccer Association has responded by asserting its authority to govern soccer in Canada and suspending the Quebec federation. Because of the suspension, Quebec children may be unable to play in tournaments against teams from other provinces this summer. One ban has been met with another.

And what did the premier of Quebec do? She ran right over and joined the Quebec Soccer Federation in its ever-tightening corner. Her other options would have been to say nothing, or to speak out on behalf of the children who are affected by this bickering and urge the participants to fix things as soon as possible. But that is not what Quebec nationalist leaders do. Instead, they seize all minor differences and harden them into major grievances, with no thought to the cost. It is as disconcerting to behold as it is tiresome.

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