Way back in the nineteen somethings, Canada was going through the sort of identity crisis we all go through when we’re about fifteen. Québec was all stomping around the place, slamming doors and cupboards and shouting “JE PARS” everytime someone looked at it.
“Hey, Québec,” we’d say, “I like your cheese. You have lovely cheese.”
“JE PARS! TU ES UNE DERRIÈRE!” *slam*
So the federal government spent “fuck-you” money on a PR campaign leading up to the Referendum where Canadians voted whether or not we should just throw our hands up in the air and say “fine then, go. Either you’ll be back when you’re hungry or I’ll drop a loonie in your cup on Yonge Street.” We had posters and flags and pithy sayings like “my Canada includes Québec!” and the French equivalent, “je voudrais plus flaçons du mais!”. We gathered en masse (see what I did there!?) in town squares and on University campuses, and we painted our faces and waved federally supplied Canada flags, and we all loved HARD on Québec.
I mean. Part of it was purely logistical. Where the fuck would Québec go if it left? It’s not like an entire province can just lift up its skirts and move to Botswana. Plus, at the time, basically all of Canada was like “treaties? What the hell are you talking about? That’s just some shit we said we were going to give to Indians to get them to shut up about European settlers taking over traditional hunting land to plant crops. Pffft. TREATIES. Whatever. They don’t OWN THE COUNTRY, Gerry.” So way back when we were all excited about national unity, we kind of didn’t mean to include Indigenous peoples. We weren’t talking about MULTINATIONAL unity, after all.
Oh sure, there was talk about “distinct society” and “unique culture” and all that, but a population of people having their own language, cultural practices, religion, heritage, and traditional homeland only applied to the descendants of people from France, not the descendants of people from, you know, North America. ANYWAY. I’m getting sidetracked. The point IS we spent a lot of money and a lot of effort telling Québec how much we loved them because we didn’t want them leaving Canada.
It’s now 22 years later, and I’m pretty much ready to pack Québec’s suitcase, hand it a couple hundred bucks and a bus ticket, and tell it it’s welcome to come back once it’s come to its senses. If it wants to be part of this family, it’s going to have to stop acting like such a cock. “We’re not like that,” I’ll be telling Québec. “We’re working to make public policy NOT discriminate against people based on their cultural heritage, gender, or identity. UR DOIN IT RONG.”
Yes, this is about the bill signed by the Québec government requiring people to remove all facial coverings if they want to use or provide public services. Essentially, they’re telling Muslim women that they have to remove their niqāb. Classy, Québec. Reeeeal classy.
Let’s just accept for a moment that the niqāb is a form of oppression forced upon Muslim women by men. I’m not saying that’s the case; I’m saying let’s assume it is. In other words, we’re going to willingly enter into a fallacious argument here but what the hell. It’s Friday. Let’s just say the only time women wear niqāb or hijab (just for clarity, niqāb is a veil or scarf that covers the face except for the eyes; hijab is a veil or scarf that covers the head, neck, and often shoulders and chest but does not cover the face) is when they are told they must by men – either by male relatives or by male religious leaders. Let’s just say that’s the case.
If the argument is that wearing niqāb is oppression because you shouldn’t force women to wear something or tell them what to do, what do you call it when you force a woman NOT to wear something and tell them what to do? Even if you base this argument on an invalid premise, the argument falls apart. EITHER you’re forcing a woman to do something OR you’re forcing her NOT to do something; either way, you’re oppressing her by removing her ability to choose how to express her identity.
If the argument is that you should be able to “see someone’s face” when you’re engaging in public discourse, as is the claim of Québec Premier Philippe Couillard:
“We are just saying that for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety, public services should be given and received with an open face. We are in a free and democratic society. You speak to me, I should see your face, and you should see mine. It’s as simple as that.”
Pardon me while I blink rapidly for a few minutes. I suppose it can be difficult to understand someone’s communication when you can’t see their faces. Why, letters and telephones were nearly the downfall of democratic society. Thank #Glob for photography. If we didn’t have things like motion picture technology and Skype, we’d be grubbing about in the dirt trying to raise our next leader from an acorn seed. Just the other day, as I was speaking on the telephone to someone who could have been Satan Himself, I was thinking, “it’s pretty clear that Hell is no democracy, otherwise I’d be able to see Satan’s face”, but then I got wondering about Heaven, and, well, suddenly Mel Gibson Jesus makes so much sense.
Let’s face it: politicians say incredibly stupid things. They sometimes build an entire career out of saying incredibly stupid things (not naming any names but we’re all looking at the same political leader right now). But the claim that a “free and democratic society” requires you to be able to see someone’s face when you communicate with them surpasses ‘incredibly stupid’ and speeds right on in to ‘ludicrous and inane’.
Far be it from me to claim that the hallmark of a free and democratic society is freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech. Far be it from me to claim that what makes a democracy work is that the people who form that democracy are enfranchised; that they are able to take part in the democratic process, whether they cover their faces or not. In fact, I may even be so bold as to say that the hallmark of current democracies has far more to do with covering arses than it does with covering faces.
But if democracy DOES hinge on being able to see everyone’s face (and apparently eyes are not part of your face any longer; at this rate the Québec government will be insisting that penises aren’t part of your body and that in order to receive any government services you have to also be displaying nipples), you’re basically telling people who live in CANADA, where it gets, from what I hear COLD, that they can not take the bus, use the library, serve on the police force, or teach in schools if they wear mufflers when it’s -40C. So much for my career as a bank robber in Québec. And, for that record, is the Premier going to shave his beard? It covers his face and makes it impossible for me to understand what he’s saying.
Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe what he’s ACTUALLY saying is “please help me; I’m being held hostage by a bunch of xenophobic bigots who don’t understand human rights and are making me look like a total tool”. Dear lord. THAT POOR MAN.
You know things are bad when I’m advocating for a man shaving his beard.
So at this point, I’m rescinding my “my Canada includes Québec” vote from 1995. My NEW vote is that since Québec clearly has no intent to govern itself on the principles Canada is trying to live up to (although the ball on reconciliation is moving slower than a toddler who REALLY doesn’t want to wear shoes), let’s return Québec to its Indigenous population. If we’re going to talk about distinct society, let’s talk about the Wabanaki, the Cree, the Anishinabeg, the Mohawk, the Wendat, the Huron, the Innu, and the Mi’kmaq. Let’s talk about the distinct society that’s created when we welcome refugees and immigrants who make our country even stronger and more diverse. Let’s talk about Francophone Canadians outside of Québec. Let’s talk about how we are all living together and enacting divisive and bigoted legislation that very clearly targets one gender and one identity is not creating the kind of place that Canada is trying to be.
Look, we have a LOT of work to do simply to reconcile the way we’ve treated the Peoples who were living and stewarding this land for hundreds of thousands of years before Europeans even showed up. What the Québec government has done is a shameful step backward. Smarten up.