Screencap from a supposedly serious assembly, via.
Quebec’s notorious Charter of Values just finished up its third week in the wrestling ring of the National Assembly, where public hearings have been turning heads from MTL to Val d’Or. While some people were able to argue their pro-charter case with class and style, most of the attention has been focused on the more ridiculous witnesses that have passed by to champion the cause. For example, watch this absurd woman defend the charter by way of her terrifying run-in during Paris’ zombie parade where she felt deeply shaken by a bunch of undead-aficionados in horror make-up. Then there’s the couple who testified on January 16 about their experiences travelling in the predominantly Muslim countries of Turkey and Morocco. According to them, their horror at the prayer habits of Muslims is somehow relevant to the Charter of Values—so they took the opportunity to air their views before a host of lawmakers and many offended citizens.
With an incredulity that has to be seen to be believed, Genevieve Caron describes her dismay at seeing, “men praying on all fours on little carpets. I remain marked by this [experience]” she said. While it’s debatable if she actually meant “scarred” rather than “marked”, what’s clear was that the people she met had different ways of praying, and that frightened the bejeesus out of her. So much so that she had to bring it to the National Assembly, under the benevolent gaze of the crucifix.
But Mme. Caron is far from the only one with outrageous testimony. Here’s a collection of five pro-Charter activists that took our concern about some of Quebec’s xenophobia to new levels of WTF.
- “We ban advertising aimed at children because, supposedly, they are susceptible,” said Michelle Blanc, “and yet there are some who would be ready to leave veiled women with our children all day long. Before you know it, the children will be asking if they too can wear a veil. Is that what we want for Quebec? I’m far from certain of that.”
When I was little, I remember asking for every kind of clothing from princess dresses to a Vancouver Grizzlies jersey. At six years old I hadn’t the faintest idea who the Grizzlies were (or how bad they were at basketball) but I liked the turquoise and I liked the tough looking bear on the front. If a child is asking to wear a veil, it’s much more likely that they’re thinking it looks pretty than expressing a deep-seated desire to follow the laws of Islam. This seems to me as ridiculous as claiming that gender-specific clothing will stop a child from “becoming gay."
- “I’ll give you an example of the effect conspicuous symbols can have. Personally, I went to Staples four years ago, and there was a woman with a veil at the cash, and I changed cashiers because I felt ill at ease. I did not want to know her religion.”
Andrea Richard, a former nun who now considers all religions “lies,” seems to have missed the point. Yes, an argument can be made (and is being made) that in the name of secularity, government employees should not represent religion in the workplace. But here, Richard is obviously railing against veiled women in everyday life. This has nothing to do with the separation of church and state, seeing as there’s nothing state-run about Staples, and everything to do with racism. If she’s uncomfortable with a cashier, she should maybe consider leaving Canada because she’s giving us a bad name.
- “So I picked up my daughter at [the daycare]. I was talking to the teacher, and I heard a cry, a child’s cry and it was really intriguing. I asked, ‘what’s happening?’ She said, ‘it’s an application with the call to prayer that I just installed on my computer…’ I found it appalling. So you see, I’ve experienced situations which are very, very disagreeable.”
Radia Kichou gave this anecdote, describing her shock at finding that Quebec is apparently not nearly as secular as she imagined it would be as an immigrant. It’s kind of the same as Michelle Blanc’s protests against veiled daycare workers; how does a call to prayer recording harm children who haven’t an earthly clue what they’re hearing anyways? What’s the worst case scenario here? That the kids will ask the teacher what the noise is and maybe learn a little bit about another culture?
- “[Here is] an example, a gay Muslim boy who has been shunned from his community because of his sexual orientation, and that is faced with a veiled nurse or psychologist who is bearing the same sign as the religious community that rejected him and he feels thereby rejected… Can you understand that the religious symbol can sometimes be a message of rejection for those who see it?”
M. Drainville himself tried in vain to bring forward an example of real people who would benefit from the Charter. He might be finding this difficult, as multiple groups have come forward saying that the “problem” addressed by the law doesn’t actually exist. Besides, rejection is not exclusive to the religious community; in a more extreme example, women who have been raped sometimes have difficulty being around large groups of men. As a society, we provide help for this woman with trigger-free spaces, counseling services and trauma groups. We don’t ban men from the streets.
- “…getting your prostate examined by rectal examination is a little disorienting at the beginning or, at least, the first time. This could only be worse if, in addition, you had to deal with a veiled doctor with burqa or the niqab, this obviously would not do.”
Um… Okay? This one takes the cake. How exactly does a burqa make getting your butt examined more difficult? In fact, a male friend of mine is of the opinion that a burqa-sporting doctor would make him feel even more comfortable, what with the whole face covering making potentially awkward eye contact less of an issue.
It’s not like this host of quotable people are in the majority at the hearings. We’ve so far heard from the likes of Michel Gauthier, former Bloc Quebecois leader, members of feminist group les Janettes, and Rene Tawani, an Egyptian-born professor at the University of Montreal, all of whom managed to present thoughtful arguments. It is entirely possible to have a fair, educated discussion about secularity in a multi-cultural society, but many of the citizens who have been on the stand so far obviously aren’t a part of that kind of discussion.
With the new level of WTF these quotes reach, you would think that the hearings aren’t exactly going the way the PQ planned. But in reality, polls have shown that support for the Charter is up, sitting at about 60 percent. This is an all time high and shows that maybe Pauline Marois is getting what she wants out of her wedge issue—a shot at a majority government.
This spike in the polls despite (or maybe because of) this parade of ignorant opinions is seriously worrisome. When the future of Quebec stands to be significantly influenced by Bill 60, it’s scary that this is the kind of commentary being taken into account.