There won’t be any NiqaBitch in Montreal protesting Quebec’s Bill 62 in 2017 the way there was in Paris in 2010, but ..

Oct 24th, 2017 | By | Category: In Brief

What is the most sensible (and democratic?) reaction to Quebec’s Bill 62, “requiring Quebecers to uncover their faces to get or receive government services”?

(In effect Bill 62 partially bans face-covering burqa and niqab headgear worn by some — a quite small number it seems — Muslim women in Canada’s francophone-majority province.)

(1) Our first sources here are four articles from the Friday, October 20 Toronto Star : (a) Quebec’s Bill 62 declares war on sunglasses (Chantal Hébert) ; (b) How Ontario politicians avoided Quebec’s burka backlash (Martin Regg Cohn) ;  (c) What a mean thing Quebec has done (Heather Mallick) ; (d) Ottawa should show courage on Quebec’s Bill 62 (Star Editorial Board).

One slightly larger context for all this is what former Ontario premier William Davis liked to call the sister provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

(Together they formed the United Province of Canada, 1841–1867. Whatever its other faults, the United Province actually managed to give itself what we would now call a democratically elected Canadian Senate in 1856, and issue the first Canadian decimal currency in 1858.)

For more than anyone ever wanted to know about our own Ontario views on Bill 62 in Quebec click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll down a little further below.

Meanwhile the Canadian debate over the ban-the-niqab in Quebec takes place in various still broader contexts. Our research assistants have looked quickly at five further groups of sources :

(2) Four additional mainstream media reports : (a) Trudeau who? on Quebec Bill 62 (CBC News) ; (b) Born-in-Canada Muslim student Masuma Khan at Dalhousie U and her support for  Mi’Kmaq people in Atlantic Canada (Huffington Post) ; (c) Nazneen Sheikh’s “invitation to progressive liberal women in Canada to champion” Bill 62 (Toronto Sun)  ; and (d) an upcoming Swiss “referendum on banning niqabs and other face-covering garments” (Associated Press).

(3) Two sources on the pros and cons of wearing particular Muslim headgear for those directly involved : (a) “Hijab, Niqab or Nothing” — a ?2008? CBC TV discussion chaired by Carole MacNeil and now on YouTube ; (b) Quebec women who’ve worn niqabs discuss province’s controversial neutrality bill (Morgan Lowrie at The Canadian Press).

(4) Three sources on the “Niqa Bitches” in Paris, autumn 2010 : (a) NiqaBitch, Original Full Video — Two French females [one allegedly Muslim] strolling through the streets of Paris in  niqab and mini-shorts as a critique of France’s recently passed law (YouTube) ; (b) ‘NiqaBitch’ unveil themselves in Paris — Are this veil-wearing, leg-baring duo making a powerful political point, or trivialising the niqab debate? (Nesrine Malik, The Guardian, Thursday 7 October 2010 ;  (c) “Sexy Paris protest criticizes ‘unconstitutional’ French anti-burqa law” (Clarke Bowling, New York Daily News, Thursday, October 28, 2010).

“Deux femmes françaises se promenant dans les rues de Paris dans un niqab, jambes nues et mini-shorts en tant que critique de la loi récemment adoptée en France”, October 2010.

(5) 72% of “First Nations people with registered Indian status” in Quebec still “living on reserve,” but only 37% in Ontario (Statistics Canada, 2011 Census).

(6) Two sources on recent Supreme Court of India decision striking down “triple talaq” — “the Muslim practice that allows men to instantly divorce their wives” : (a) Triple talaq verdict Highlights: Modi says SC order grants equality, Rahul welcomes decision (Hindustan Times, 22 August 2017) ; (b) Triple Talaq Verdict: Muslim Women Are Cheering — But So Is BJP (Shuma Raha, The Quint, 22 August 2017).

For excessive further detail and —  again — for more than anyone ever really wanted to know about our own Ontario views on Bill 62 in Quebec click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll down below.

(1) Our first sources here are four articles from the Friday, October 20 Toronto Star

And here are quotations we especially liked (or disliked, so to speak) or otherwise found instructive (or amusing) in these Toronto Star sources :

* “There are no penal sanctions for those who fail to apply Bill 62 … Indeed there are those who believe Couillard’s plan was to fend off charges that his government is failing to address the religious accommodation issue with a bill that is neither applicable nor legally viable.” (Chantal Hébert)

* “On Friday, a tweet by Ontario Tory Leader Patrick Brown suggesting that, absent a federal intervention, the province should support a Charter-based court challenge of the Quebec law prompted a load of pro-Bill 62 responses from followers purporting to be Ontario voters.” (Chantal Hébert)

* “To their credit, Ontario’s politicians came together Thursday to rise above conventional politics — especially …  ‘identity politics’ that divides people along racial, religious and ethnic lines. By unanimously condemning Quebec’s new ban on face coverings for Muslim women (who seek public services), Queen’s Park delivered an unprecedented rebuke to the national assembly.” (Martin Regg Cohn)

* “The province has gone to extraordinary lengths to forge closer ties with its neighbour. Nurturing the federalist impulse, joint Ontario-Quebec cabinet meetings were convened, culminating with invitations for each premier to speak in the other’s legislature … Now, Ontario’s very public admonition has put that bilateral bonhomie under strain … More than a tale of two divergent legislatures, it is a clash of two political cultures.” (Martin Regg Cohn)

On the streets of Montreal today.

* “Before this, the niqab was a rare-enough emblem of control over women, which is the hallmark of all religions. Apparently some young Canadians wear it to annoy their free-thinking parents and it does that, so great job, kids.” (Heather Mallick)

* “Note how Prime Minister Trudeau is resented by journalists for his cool Montreal dress sense but Conservative leader Andrew Scheer dresses like a journalist — he looks like a Saskatchewan Shoppers Drug Mart bag — and gets away with it. Such minor matters cause maximum misery. (Heather Mallick)

[BTW : Justin Trudeau may have a “cool Montreal dress sense.” Whadda we know? But some Torontonians continue to wonder about Montreal. And we especially continue to believe that the true source of the prime minister’s cool dress sense is Sophie Gregoire.]

* “In fact, Ottawa does have tools to challenge the law — and it should consider using them in this case. This is not a time for caution or intergovernmental niceties, but for clarity and courage. However popular this law may be in Quebec, a defining and admirable feature of our country is that the majority cannot choose to deprive a minority of their rights.” (Star Editorial Board).

[To us at least this would be a stronger editorial if it specified the tools Ottawa has — and argued for more than “consider using them.” Chantal  Hébert, eg, has urged : “If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wanted to be proactive in the festering debate over reasonable accommodation, he would seek the advice of Canada’s top court on achieving a Charter-friendly balance between the rights of religious minorities and the values of a secular society.]

(2) Four additional mainstream media reports

Montreal, 2015. Photo : Eric Parker.

Aaron Wherry at  CBC News explains that : “Over the course of three days this week, the prime minister was poked and prodded for a position on Bill 62 .” On this issue, however, Trudeau the Younger seems more intent (and probably wisely?) on imitating William Lyon Mackenzie King than his father, who more or less invented the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The born-in-Canada Muslim woman Masuma Khan believes : “We recognize that Canada Day and the Canada 150 celebrations are an act of ongoing colonialism that glorifies continued theft from, and disenfranchisement of, the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (Canada).” Our main reaction here is was it also “theft” when the Six Nations Seneca expelled the Huron-Wendat from the area between Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay in the middle of the 17th century — only to be expelled themselves by the Mississauga-Ojibway by the start of the 18th century?

Nazneen Sheikh, a Canadian author originally from Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir on the India-Pakistan border (and a supporter of Quebec’s Bill 62), concludes her October 19 piece in the Toronto Sun with “There is no mention of any dress code for women anywhere in the revered text of the Qur’an. So it is time to denounce the fakers and say: ‘welcome to a Canada where women can never be hidden.’”

“The Swiss government says voters will decide whether to ban face-covering garments like masks or Muslim burqas and niqabs … a vote on the ban, championed by far-right groups” is “not expected before next year… Passage would put Switzerland alongside France, Austria and other European countries in prohibiting face-covering garments. The Italian-speaking Swiss region of Ticino enacted such a ban last year.”

(3) Two sources on the pros and cons of wearing particular Muslim headgear for those directly involved

German Summer : “Merkel says these two cultures will integrate” : 2ndlife, July 2016.

Both Carole MacNeil’s TV discussion from a few years ago on You Tube and Morgan Lowrie’s Canadian Press article published yesterday on the CTV News site make the point that some Muslim women feel the niqab protects them from unwanted male advances in public. (And a sophomoric wit might urge fresh relevance in the new Age of Harvey Weinstein.)

At the same time, we find we agree with both sides of the argument reported in Morgan Lowrie’s Canadian Press article.

First we agree with niqab-wearing Quebec resident Warda Naili, who “says she already stays home most of the time to avoid the discrimination she faces on the street.” (Which even for niqab opponents also suggests no real need for official prohibition by law?) Ms Naili says she insists on wearing a niqab because : “I want to control who I give the permission to access my body … I think every woman, and every person, should have this right.”

And then we agree as well with Quebec resident Ensaf Haidar, who “says she had to wear the niqab in Saudi Arabia at times because it was mandatory.” But she “feels niqabs are a way of erasing women from public view and says she doesn’t believe they have a place in Canada or Quebec.” She “doesn’t believe wearing the niqab can be a choice and hopes to see it gone from Canada one day.” In her own words : “We came here to be free. We’re here because there are a lot of things we can’t do in our country. I am here and I am free and I am me.”

(4) Three sources on the “Niqa Bitches” in Paris, autumn 2010

سيدتان فرنسيتان تتجولان في شوارع باريس بالنقاب و السراوييل القصيرة و ارجلهما عاريتان بمثابة نقد للقانون الدي صدر مؤخرا. (October 2010).

The “Niqa Bitches” who appeared on the streets of Paris seven years ago to protest the niqa ban in France are bound to be controversial.  But the You Tube video put up by the two university  “students, one of whom is Muslim” is entertaining, cutely satirical — and hip.

(Subtitles identifying key Paris destinations on the NiqaBitch stroll — socialist party headquarters, ministries of defence, immigration, etc — are in French. But the accompanying sound track is a rap tune in English, with “Fuck You” prominent among the lyrics. Note as well that at least the women among we counterweights editors have reacted with “good for them!”)

As explained by Clarke Bowling in the New York Daily News, the two girls “told news website rue89, ‘We were not looking to attack or degrade the image of Muslim fundamentalists – each to their own – but rather to question politicians who voted for this law that we consider clearly unconstitutional.’

We also liked Nesrine Malik on the “Niqa Bitch” video in The Guardian across the sea : “Is it mocking the niqab? As the campaign is in protest against the niqab ban, I think not. But even if it were, so what? What I like about the video is its iconoclasm. Both the religious and secular could do with being less precious and heavy-handed about what women would like to wear.”

(5) 72% of “First Nations people with registered Indian status” in Quebec still “living on reserve,” but only 37% in Ontario

Research assistants also involved in other projects came up with this one. The point of departure is Martin Regg Cohn’s note [see (1) above] on how the apparent clash between Ontario and Quebec over Bill 62 is more “than a tale of two divergent legislatures.” It “is a clash of two political cultures.”

Does the particular evidence of Bill 62 on this clash have anything to do with the difference between the two provinces in terms of percentages of  “First Nations people with registered Indian status” still “living on reserve”? (Almost twice as large in Quebec as in Ontario in 2011!)

If this on-reserve First Nations difference between Ontario and Quebec does have at least something significant more or less to do with the clash of two political cultures over Bill 62, it may be worth noting that it is not exactly replicated in some broader Quebec vs. rest-of-Canada dichotomy.

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, eg, have  on-reserve First Nations percentages only slightly lower than Quebec’s (68.0% and 68.8% respectively). And the majority of “First Nations people with registered Indian status” were still “living on reserve” in Manitoba and Saskatchewan in 2011 (57.9% and 57.3% respectively : and CLICK HERE for the complete Stats Can table).

(6) Two sources on recent Supreme Court of India decision striking down “triple talaq”

Celebrating the Supreme Court of India’s August 2017 decision “striking down the practice of instant triple talaq ... which allowed Muslim men to arbitrarily divorce their wives,” outside the offices of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Lucknow.

The Supreme Court of India’s banning of “the Muslim practice that allows men to instantly divorce their wives” this past August is of course only indirectly related to Bill 62 in Quebec on banning face-covering headgear for Muslim women.

(And note here too that by only “a majority of 3:2, the five-judge bench termed the practice ‘unconstitutional’ and violative of Articles 14 [right to equality before the law] and 21 [right to life and liberty] of the Constitution, thereby setting aside a brutally discriminatory custom which allowed Muslim men to arbitrarily divorce their wives.”)

What is most interesting here, we think, is the suggestion that forces on the right rather than the left of India’s democratic spectrum seem to be most successfully identifying with the “triple talaq” ban — and exploiting it for political advantage. See, eg, Shuma Raha on how : “Yes, it was the apex court which delivered the verdict —  the government had nothing to do with it. But that scarcely matters when it comes to the politics of managing perceptions. Already, the BJP’s social media armies … are serenading the verdict as a major achievement of the government … The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that his government is committed to upholding the rights of Muslim women … With this verdict under its belt, the BJP could claim that it has done just that. And there is no gainsaying that fact that governments past failed to do anything similar, with Rajiv Gandhi squandering a historic opportunity during the Shah Bano case in 1985 for fear of antagonising the minority community.”

Examining the pages of the Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto, and Winnipeg Sun newspapers lately (just for a start : also note 24heures Montreal, 24hrs Toronto, 24hrs Vancouver, and much else), it is possible to suspect that some parallel Canadian political plot is afoot on this front.  See, eg, Nazneen Sheikh’s article in the Toronto Sun as in (2) above, and more recently in the same increasingly abject Canadian right-wing publication, Tarek Fatah on “Two Quebec Muslim women accuse Kathleen Wynne of burka betrayal.”

(7) What should Ontario do about Bill 62 in Quebec?

“Eine junge Muslimin fiebert für die deutsche Fußballnationalmannschaft mit.”

If it actually is broadly correct that (in Chantal Hébert’s words) Quebec Premier Philippe  “Couillard’s plan was to fend off charges that his government is failing to address the religious accommodation issue with a bill that is neither applicable nor legally viable” — and as some agreed-on part of this same plot Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (not unlike Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre) had agreed to oppose Bill 62 publicly — then we agree that she and the two other party leaders in the legislature at Queen’s Park have done the right thing.

Otherwise, though we have a lot of respect and admiration for Premier Wynne’s Government of Ontario (even with all its alleged flaws in the eyes of the mainstream media), we wonder whether the best policy for Queen’s Park may have been to let what happens in Quebec stay in Quebec? Some Muslim women do want “the right” to wear whatever they like, and we altogether support that. But it also seems clear enough that other Muslim women have indeed come to Canada to escape the tyranny of religious or cultural rules that also take away the right to wear whatever they like. And we think Canadian public policy should somehow be keeping faith with them as well. Just what this means in practice is of course not yet clear. But Justin Trudeau’s instinct to somehow consult the shades of Mackenzie King may finally make the most sense?

(8) What about “the rest of Canada”?

Naheed Nenshi re-elected as Mayor of Calgary!

There should be no federal law in Canada regarding what individuals may or may not wear in public “to get or receive [federal] government services.” But the federal government is not responsible for what provincial governments may or may not do in connection with the powers assigned to them in the Constitution Act, 1867.  And Canadian federalism and the cause of Canadian unity mean respecting both the will of the French-speaking majority in Quebec and the will of the English-speaking majority in the rest of the country.

If some Muslim women in Quebec are altogether against that province’s laws regarding the covering or uncovering of human faces, they can in some last resort move to another province in Canada. Meanwhile, the Mayor of Montreal is apparently not going to enforce Bill 62 in the Quebec metropolis. We (current Ontario residents) do not want to live ourselves in any province that legislates about what kind of clothing can or cannot be worn in public. And we agree that legislation of this sort almost certainly violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in the Constitution Act, 1982. QED!

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