Trudeau says give hijab-wearing women a smile, but won’t touch Quebec anti-Muslim bill

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with Quebec Premier Francois Legault

On June 16 2019 the Quebec national assembly passed Bill 21. The bill bars some teachers, lawyers, police officers and others in the public sphere from wearing religious symbols on the job, including head and face coverings worn by some Muslim women, Sikh turbans or Jewish yarmulkes.

Given that Quebec looks to France for guidance in social, political and religious matters it found ample inspiration from a country that is at the forefront in finding ways to exclude veils from public life.  The French Senate went so far as to ban women who wear a hijab from accompanying children on school trips.

A poll conducted at the time by Léger Marketing confirms the anti-Muslim sentiments; it found that only 28 per cent of people had a positive view of Islam, and 37 per cent had a positive view of Muslims, compared with 66 per cent who had a good view of Catholics and 60 per cent who had positive views of Catholicism. The poll found that 88 percent of those who support Bill 21 were precisely those who had negative feelings about Islam. On the other hand, those who had positive views of Islam were overwhelmingly against the ban.

The passage of Bill 21 came at a time when assaults on Muslims in Quebec were rising. Two years before in 2017 the rate tripled – the same year that six men were murdered while praying at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City.  

One would have thought that these facts, stark as they are, would be quite familiar to our federal political leaders, and they would have remained suitably impressed given the recent history of these Quebec events. If they were, they were not letting on by their equivocating responses in the face of the recent murder of a Muslim family in London, Ontario.

One writer pointed out that Justin Trudeau isn’t shy about delivering apologies [unusually with his breathless, theatrical flair] in the House of Commons. The Sikh asylum-seekers received one for being turned away from Vancouver in 1914; gays and lesbians for being discriminated against, Japanese and Italians for being locked up during the Second World War.

Yet the best we could get from our Prime Minister following the murders of the Muslim family is that we should smile at the next woman we see wearing a hijab. But as to Quebec’s Bill 21 and its contribution to the negative attitudes towards Muslim, Trudeau has no comment.   

Instead our prime minister insists that Quebec has a right to make its own laws. He says that even while holding strong opinions on the internal affairs about many countries located on the other side of the world like Russia and China, but Quebec? “I think it is extremely important to recognize that provinces have the right to put forward bills that align with their priorities,” said Trudeau.  Ditto for opposition leader Erin O’toole and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who won’t go anywhere near Bill 21. After all, they all salivate at the 78 seats in Quebec that can lead them to the seat of government.

One would have thought that our elected leaders would be familiar with the often oft quoted statement: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” And what they did amounted to nothing – the same thing that most leaders did when John A. MacDonald and Egerton Ryerson were creating and justifying the “Indian Residential Schools.”

Perhaps we would not have been unearthing the corpses of our indigenous children if enough “good men” had stood up to MacDonald and his ilk.