Quebec, as displayed by the recent brouhaha over religious headwear in soccer, is something of a bellwether when it comes to our troubled multiculturalism policy.
Now, the province is launching a review of accommodation measures, signaling that people there want some clear lines drawn about just how much license will be given to newcomers.
The province is not alone in the struggle, but has certainly been most visible in its efforts. Perhaps it’s because Quebeckers are more defensive of their culture. Or perhaps they’re just less inclined to simpering political correctness.
Nowhere is the issue of immigration and accommodation more volatile than with Muslims and Islam. That the so-called foiled bombing attempt on the West Coast was carried out by Canadian converts to Islam is not likely to ease the chill.
The soccer issue that flared up is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to burkas and niqabs and other outward signs of “otherness,” the likes of which will be part of Quebec’s review.
The battle over such coverings has already come to a head in Europe, where France moved against them. Even very liberal Holland has brought in new rules compelling immigrants to adopt Dutch culture or face deportation.
The Swiss referendum to ban the construction of new minarets – associated with Muslim mosques – is another sign of a push back against Islam in the West.
In Canada, where immigrants are much more prevalent, we’ve been slow to tackle the growing problem. Political correctness has stifled debate. Let’s be clear, this is about more than just whether burkas are oppressive to women or if face coverings pose a security threat. Both are valid concerns, but the wider issues involve distrust of Islam – the movement, not necessarily the religion, though the public often makes no such distinction – and the defense of Canadian culture.
Older, more homogenous European countries have readily identifiable cultures. Immigrants make up small and often very visible minorities. Canada, on the other hand, is a country of immigrants. But the heritage of the original Anglo-Saxon and French settlers is still predominant, despite statistics that show the number of visible minorities rising dramatically, especially in Toronto.
When some people talk of protecting Canadian culture, even the very idea of such a thing is challenged. Others say such a stance is racist. It’s no wonder we’re not keen to start the debate.
That may change, however, if events unfolding in Quebec trigger court challenges or, worse still, a human rights tribunal fiasco. If things go that way, the legal wrangling will drag on for ages. And you can bet related issues will be dragged into the fray. At stake will be the ability of Canadians to protect this country’s history and to shape the kind of society they want.
Ideally, we’d overhaul the rules before the battle, the better to serve Canadians. The Charter of Rights is deeply flawed, but can’t be touched without constitutional headaches – it’s not going to happen. But the harmful Canadian Human Rights Act should go, along with the human rights commission and tribunal.
Asking questions about what kind of country we want to be and how much change is desirable are inherently democratic. That debate is valid, and must not be stifled by political correctness or its oppressive offspring, including unaccountable and oppressive quasi-judicial agencies stuffed with patronage appointees, party hacks and bagmen.