Thursday, January 30, 2014

Intent, Bill 60 & Mammon

I have not posted to this blog in far too long, so when I went off on a rant on FB the other day, I thought it might be worthwhile to repost it here. So here goes:

In the context of hearings over Bill 60 this week, a certain Martine Desjardins decried the wearing of the hijab as a "strategy" in the "expansion of political Islam." That statement is utterly racist on the face of it and is not a particularly strong argument for a charter of values one way or the other, but I want to use her argument to illustrate why the Charter's proposed banning of religious symbols is difficult to take seriously.

So, now, if we leave aside that it would be a really shitty strategy in the secularized & liberal west. If we also leave aside the obvious tales of successful integration of Italians, Greeks, Chinese, Haitians, Armenians, Germans, Vietnamese & god knows how many other cultures into the fabric of Québécois society without the assistance of a Charter of Values over the last 7 decades or so, Bill 60 is still fairly evidently a farce. Specifically, the clause regarding ostentatious religious symbols. It is laughably unenforceable, doesn't address what it claims to and certainly doesn't mitigate the threat Mme Desjardins is trying to warn us about. Moreover even if it did, it simply would not live long enough as a law to be of particular inconvenience to anyone at all.

Allow me to explain. Let us accept, for the sake of argument that Mme Desjardins is right. There is a conspiracy of political Islam to expand & change the way societies and cultures operate by proselytizing through the ostentatious display of religious symbols so that eventually Islam & Islamic culture & politics edge out existing entrenched cultural, religious & political norms. Let's also assume, for the sake of argument, that this would be a bad thing. (For the record, the first assumption is not true, but even if it was, the second assumption does not necessarily follow from the first)

In such a world, Bill 60 would seek to curtail the wearing of the Hijab, the Burqa & the Niqab, but would not in any way interfere with a man wearing a ritualistically unshaven beard - an ostentatious religious symbol. In fact, there are little to no ostentatious religious symbols worn by men which would be the target of this bill. Sure, Kirpans & Kippas & a few other odds & ends, but ultimately the list is biased to favour Christians & Men. That said, a whole crapload of ink has been spilled addressing these shortcomings & I shan't dwell on them further, except to point out that in all of these cases we are banning an article of clothing while assuming intent - & in the case of Mme Desjardins pointing to a perceived potential threat if we don't.

But what if there was a religious group that was a proven threat to our values and way of life that wore an ostentatious religious symbol & practiced strange rituals every day in full view of the public? What if this group had caused the collapse of the world economy, leading to *hundreds of thousands* of evictions & foreclosures, thousands upon thousands of cases of homelessness and thousands of death by suicide related to depression as a result of long term unemployment? What if this group worshipped a god - let's call him Mammon? & what if their ostentatious religious symbol was the business suit?

Would we ban that, then?

Okay, sure, you're right, the business class do not actually worship Mammon, it's just a biblical turn of phrase. So it's not a religious symbol, they get to keep it. But it sure as hell is a lot more menacing than a biology major trying to write an exam with a pretty scarf wrapped around her head.

So if the pretty, non-threatening scarf has to go, but not the business suit, then the government is drawing a distinction between whether the wearer intends for the article of clothing to be a religious display. So what if I, an atheist, wear a Kippa because I like the look? Or what if a nun dons a headscarf that happens to look a little bit like a hijab to shield herself from the cold? The text of Bill 60 already indicates it's not ready to make that distinction for these particular articles of clothing, and yet it's already made a number of distinctions as far as what gets covered in the first place.

What that means is that if this bill is adopted, it will not *just* be challenged in court on the basis of it violating the religious freedoms of Canadian citizens, but also by people claiming their freedom of expression has been violated in a simply non-religious sense. Oh, I almost forgot, it will also be challenged on the basis of unfairly singling out women & violating the equality rights of Canadian citizens under the Charter of Rights & Freedoms (& yes, this includes state secularism, ironically enough, as Bill 60 clearly favours one religion over others).

With so many challenges, the bill will nearly certainly be struck down quickly. Which means that the Quebec government would have to use the Notwithstanding clause to force the bill to remain in effect for 5 years. How does the PQ *really* feel about their chances? If they use the notwithstanding clause to explicitly deprive Québécois of rights, do they honestly believe they'll have the reigns of government to do it again in 5 years when their likely tweaked Charter is challenged again?

This whole thing is a bad joke. It is clearly unconstitutional. It even violates the *existing* Quebec Charter of Human Rights & Freedoms (though it would get around that by amending that particular law - because rights can just be written off by a legislature if they're inconvenient, right?). It is divisive, it pits Québécois against Québécois & Métropole against Capitale. It needs to stop.