Lawmakers in the Canadian province of Quebec have adopted a law banning public service employees from wearing religious symbols. Critics and advocates both see it as an attempt of the Francophone region to preserve its identity.
Bill 21 (Loi 21) was passed by a vote of 73-35 in the National Assembly on Sunday, June 16. It bars civil servants “in positions of authority” – such as teachers, police, and government lawyers – from wearing religious symbols. This includes Christian crucifixes, Muslim headscarves, Sikh turbans and Jewish yarmulkes, for instance.
Muslim women wearing the full face veil (burqa) will be directly affected by the provision requiring people giving or receiving government services to uncover their faces, for purposes of security or confirming identity.
Lawmakers also approved Bill 9, which imposes new French language and values tests for prospective immigrants intended to “protect Quebec identity.”
In Canada, such a measure seems frankly out of place.
Commentator Gavin McInnes pointed out, however, that Quebec is very distinct from the rest of Canada: the province has “language police” that enforces the primacy of French, and its inhabitants – mainly descendants of French colonists from the early 1600s – have “perfectly preserved their country in amber, like some prehistoric dragonfly.”
McInnes disagreed with the ban on Sikh turbans and called the ban on the yarmulke “absurd,” but agreed with the ban on the burqa as something “just not compatible with Western culture.”
“If you keep creating this bubble, eventually you’re going to come across as a fascist,” he told RT. The idea of banning religious symbols appears “totally fascist and tyrannical,” but Quebec could be trying to nip identity politics – other than its own – in the bud, McInnis said.
“I mean, they’ve been doing this for way longer than Canada. Quebec is 400 years old. Canada got their national anthem in 1980, their flag in 1969,” he added.
Bill 21 includes language intended to forestall legal challenges under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. An earlier law that sought to ban hiding one’s face when giving or receiving public services, was overturned by the province’s supreme court in 2017.
Quebec is the only French-speaking province in Canada, and its history with the others has been precarious ever since it was placed under British rule in 1763. There have even been two attempts to secede: the 1980 referendum failed by a 19-percent margin, while a 1995 one was narrowly defeated by less than 55,000 votes.
Canada as a whole has seen a surge in immigration since. According to the most recent census in 2016, one in eight Quebeckers is an immigrant, many of them from francophone countries such as Haiti or the former French colonies in North Africa.