The Amira Elghawaby affair: Quebec nationalists doth protest too much


The late 1960s when Canada opened its door to people of a darker complexion, was also a time when Quebec nationalism was once again very active.

Many of those new immigrants who came into contact with Quebec society, either by settling in the French province or by paying attention to its very active nationalist politics, empathized with their struggle to assert their cultural, linguistic and political independence from English Canada. After all, most of those immigrants had just arrived from countries that had either won or were in the process of winning independence from the European powers that had enslaved their ancestors and created colonies replicating the colonizers’ cultures and languages.

So when Pierre Vallières of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), a separatist and paramilitary group in Quebec, published the infamously-titled book “White Niggers of America”, those new immigrants got it when Vallières spoke of Blacks and French Quebecers as being the exploited lower class, and called for armed struggle against their common oppressors.

But it didn’t take long for those “non-traditional” immigrants who settled in Quebec to experience job discrimination and police harassment. It soon became clear that the parallel Vallieres drew between French and the Black struggles were for descriptive purposes only after ripples of racist nationalism kept rising to the surface with every iteration of separatists/French nationalist parties that followed the Parti Quebecois (PQ) – the first pro-independence political party to win legislative power; that was in 1976.

The racist sentiments were unequivocally expressed when in 1995 when Parti Quebecois leader Jacques Parizeau blamed money and ethnic votes after the PQ lost a referendum that would have created an independent Quebec.

Twenty-seven years later, Jean Boulet, Quebec Minister of Labour and Immigration, said “80 per cent of immigrants go to Montreal, don’t work, don’t speak French or don’t adhere to the values of Quebec society.” Many Black Quebecers knew exactly what the immigrants Boulet was talking about – the clearly identifiable ones, the non-whites.

Indeed, Quebec nationalists have been diligent in their efforts to strengthen the separation of church and state (they claim that is reason for their actions); they have introduced a number of bills to make sure that happens. Yet all these bills – 21, 60, 62, 94 – have one thing in common – they clearly discriminate against Muslims, mostly women, forbidding them to wear hijabs, etc, if they are to get a government or public service job, or to receive a public service if they wear a niqab. And surveys have found that two-thirds of Muslim women interviewed said they’d either been a victim of or witnessed a hate crime. So, all these bills have done is to give official blessing to this nationalist disease.

Now, the Quebec secularists/nationalists are up in arms after prime minister Trudeau appointed Amira Elghawaby, a Muslim woman, as special representative on combating Islamophobia last week. They would not have her, demanding that Trudeau rescind her appointment.

And what for? Elghawaby’s once wrote in an Ottawa Citizen newspaper column that “the majority of Quebecers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment.” She was in fact stating the findings of a poll that said precisely that. And it followed a similar statement printed in a Montreal Gazette report.

Even after she apologized for what was in fact speaking the truth, the sanctimonious “separators of church and state” would not have her. Bloc Quebecios leader made that very plain. 

Meanwhile, vote – hungry federal parties squirm as if sitting on a bur in their comfortable chairs.

Squirm they should.