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Controversial Unreasoning Anxiety Elevated to Law

Discussion in 'Hard Talk' started by spnadmin, Mar 27, 2010.

  1. spnadmin

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    Jun 17, 2004
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    Unreasoning Anxiety Elevated to Law

    Unreasoning anxiety elevated to law

    Canada is a multicultural country, although not every person who lives here believes in multiculturalism. Some say it encourages newcomers to cling to the values and mores they left behind. When people wear clothing or artifacts that announce their religion or ethnicity, this can be interpreted as a lack of commitment to Canada.

    Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but generally speaking our laws and jurisprudence have taken a generous view of what is permissible - and we're a better country for it.

    Sikh RCMP officers won the right to wear a turban as part of the official uniform in 1990, although it took six more years until the Supreme Court vindicated them.

    The Supreme Court was later called to rule on whether Sikh students are allowed to carry a kirpan ceremonial dagger. The court rejected a Quebec school board's kirpan ban.

    Now the flash point is the niqab, a full-face veil worn by approximately 25 Muslim women in Quebec. For weeks now, the public has been consumed by this issue, ever since a woman was kicked out of state-sponsored language classes for refusing to remove her veil.

    This week, the Charest government reacted: Quebec Justice Minister Kathleen Weil tabled legislation that is to "establish guidelines" for the accommodation of undefined "requests."

    Behind this ambiguous wording lurks the government's determination to keep up with public opinion on the niqab. And public opinion seems pretty clear: Quebecers disapprove, many saying rightly or wrongly that it represents the unequal treatment of women.

    So, absurdly, Quebec will refuse equal treatment to niqabis: They will be refused access to government services. It will be interesting to see what the courts will say about this one.

    Quebec is not alone in its misgivings. Yesterday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed to ban full-face coverings outright. Quebec has not gone that far, but this provision is still an unwise over-reaction to an issue that would be trivial except that it harbours so much anxiety about immigrant culture.

    A government's duty is to lead, not bow to paranoia about the unfamiliar. Quebec's Muslim community has repeatedly assured the province that veiled women do not refuse to uncover their faces to identify themselves. Quebec already requires everyone to show their faces when they vote and to apply for a driver's licence or medicare card.
    This bill elevates unreasoning anxiety to the status of law. Banning veiled women from classrooms or government offices is no way to promote gender equality. A vibrant democracy doesn't shrink from a little diversity.
    © Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

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