Angela Merkel deemed multiculturalism — the idea that social harmony is best achieved through celebrating our differences — a complete failure in Germany. David Cameron claimed it facilitated the rise of radical Islam in Britain and called for “stronger societies and identities at home,” along with a “much more active, muscular liberalism” that “believes in certain values and actively promotes them.”
Last fall, the European backlash against multiculturalism crossed the Atlantic and landed in Quebec, when the governing Parti Québécois proposed the Charter of Values, which sets out a vision of government that breaks sharply with Canada’s broader multicultural ethos.
Quebec, of course, with its distinctive religious history, feminist bent and linguistically diverse metropolis of Montreal, has never been reluctant to go against the Canadian grain…
The Charter of Values is the latest expression of Quebec’s dim view of multiculturalism. Among other things, the bill affirms the secular nature of Quebec’s government and denies religious requests for accommodations of dress in public sector employment: After a transition period, government workers would have to refrain from wearing conspicuous religious symbols — for instance, the Muslim hijab, the Sikh turban or the Christian cross — while on the job.
As usual, though, when Quebec veers from the Canadian path, controversy breaks out. The Ottawan government has even vowed to challenge the charter in the national courts if it passes. Critics are claiming that the bill infringes on the liberties of Muslims and other minorities. Oddly, though, they do not balk at the current ban, for all government workers, on the expression of other social or political beliefs through their attire.
For no clear reason, multiculturalists seem to think some personal preferences are more permissibly expressed by government workers than others. In any case, a truly secular state should not permit the symbols of any religion, whether of the majority or a minority, to breach the wall between church and state advocated by no less than Thomas Jefferson; hence the Parti Québécois’ decision to remove the crucifix that famously hangs in the legislature.
The charter is actually just the next logical step along the path of secularization…
Interestingly, women in Quebec are especially likely to see it so. And indeed, the defense of gender equality is a pillar of the charter. It states that no one, man or woman, can work for the state with face covered — for instance, by the facial veils of the Muslim burqa and niqab — because such an act would imply inequality and segregation. The bill also clearly signals that no one can refuse to be served by a female public worker.
Quebec’s approach to the separation of church and state is thus rigorous, progressive and modern…
In a very real sense, the debate over Quebec’s charter may be the last stand of Canada’s multiculturalist experiment. Whatever the immediate outcome, it may be only a matter of time until Canadian multiculturalism finds itself buried alongside its European siblings.
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I am too distant from Quebec to comment much on this. One thing does stand out, though: if the Parti Québécois is so much opposed to multiculturalism, why have they so enthusiastically encouraged foreign Muslim immigrants to come there? Banning burkas is like using a band-aid to treat a serious illness.