Quebec – political courage needed on accommodation

“Quebecers strongly oppose almost any cultural or religious accommodation of immigrants and other minority Quebecers, according to survey findings published yesterday in La Presse. The findings are a sobering measure of the size of the problem Quebec faces and a clear indication that some political courage is going to be needed.

“The poll results are dramatic: A hijab on the soccer pitch? 70 per cent of respondents are against. Turbans for Sikh Mounties? Nearly 80 per cent against. The kirpan? Female-only swimming? Male-only driving testers for Hasidic Jews? No, no, and no, by large margins. People of common sense and goodwill can certainly disagree on many of these issues. But in Quebec’s current happy social context these strikingly one-sided results – if not the entire debate – seem to us somewhat irrational….

“So why all this opposition? One figure offers a hint: 58 per cent object to providing prayer spaces in public buildings. That’s far fewer naysayers than on most such issues.

“This leads us to suspect that the less visible a practice, the more acceptable it’s deemed. Praying to Allah or anyone else is bothersome to fewer old-stock Quebecers if done in private; but Heaven (so to speak) help the 13-year-old girl who wears a scarf to play soccer. Even the Quebec Council on the Status of Women, an organization dedicated to social equality, is campaigning to forbid public-sector employees from displaying any overt signs of culture or religion.

“It’s doing this in the name of a secular state, but the subtext is far different. If an SAAQ clerk or a teacher is barred by law from wearing a hijab, a turban or a kippa, what is the message? What is retained – by adults and kids – is that there’s something wrong with these symbols – and, by extension, their wearers.

“There is some good news in the survey. Younger Quebecers revealed themselves to be far more accommodating than their elders. That openness bodes well for the long term.”

Leader in the Montreal Gazette, 10 October 2007