Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Bill 62 is a Disgrace

Bill 62 is a disgrace. In the fullness of time it will be seen in the same light as separate drinking fountains for different races. It is a clear, cowardly attack on a cultural practice that applies only to a tiny minority.

In case you are unaware Bill 62 is a Quebec piece of legislation that will prohibit those covering their faces from receiving or providing public services on behalf of the government. While I appreciate Quebec has  a different tradition of secularism than English Canada it is hard not to see this as a targeted hit against Muslims.  I sincerely doubt the framers of the law had any concerns about excessively observant Catholic nuns in mind. The law is clearly intended to penalize Muslim women.

My values tell me that the state shouldn't be in the business of dictating our clothes (aside from basic decency). The hue and cry that these sorts of laws are intended to protect and liberate women seem, at best, paternalistic. In modern Canada we all access government services constantly. From buses to police officers, from driver's licenses to permit clerks, we frequently have to interact with public servants and depend upon their work.

In a secular society it is not required for the people not to profess their values or hide their religion, rather, it is the government that should be neutral and fair. This law hardly perpetuates the idea that Quebec government is an unbiased party. Instead it seeks to punish those who do not conform to its preferred group.

As a feminist raised in the West I do not like the niqab or the burka. At first blush they seems to be in the long tradition of controlling women's bodies and sexuality. That being said, I have no intent or desire to ban them or badger women who wear them. Nor would I prohibit mini-skirts for the opposite reasons. It's not my place. I've spoken with women who wear head coverings. They have been consistent that it is a choice they have made, and that they like it.

Quebec could do much for the Muslim women in its society. This act seems a declaration that a small subset and the broader community do not belong. While the law is likely to be struck down by the courts it would send a more powerful message for elected leaders to repeal it. I doubt that will happen. However, sometimes moral courage appears at surprising times.

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