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Equality Between the Sexes or Respect for Traditions?
by R. John Matthies
[Title differs from the Family Security Matters version]
Charles de Gaulle is remembered for touching down in Montreal on July 24, 1967 to utter his famous "Vive le Québec libre" (Long live a free Quebec). 40 years later, Quebec is still wed to federalist Canada; but the province has resolved, independent of her sister provinces, to amend her charter of laws in order to subordinate "religious freedoms" to "equality between the sexes." Quebec has very much resolved, writes a chronicler, to "get her girl on."
The greater discussion on religion in Quebec began in March, when the Bouchard-Taylor Commission set out to tour the province. The Commission will host a series of town hall chats through November, and has planned a number of provincial consultation forums to determine once and for all the accommodations, minority traditions, and celestial mandates Quebeckers are prepared to accept.
Both this clamor and the Commission result from the ruckus that erupted in January, when André Drouin and a handful of counselors from the parish municipality of Hérouxville published a Code of Living Standards for newcomer residents.
They share thoughts expressed by Northwestern University sociology professor emeritus Bernard Beck, who remarked to the Chicago Tribune: "America has been trying to get along on the basis of a bargain, saying, 'We're all basically the same.' But more recently, the message is, 'We're not all the same. Not all religions have the same message.'" The Hérouxville counselors agreed, and decided that equality between the sexes was as good a place as any to begin the discussion.
The Hérouxville Code explores a number of categories relative to the "Way of Life in Quebec," but "Our Women" tops the list. Not surprisingly, Mr. Drouin and the Hérouxville town counselors are at it again, and unveiled a second draft at the Commission's town hall chat Tuesday evening. Similar to the first, Code 2.0 reads: "[W]e consider as undesirable and prohibit […]: killing women by lapidation (stoning) or burning them alive in public places, burning them with acid, excising them, infibulating them or treating them as slaves."
One would not be wrong to suspect that stoning and the rest are covered by existing law, but this is beside the point. What the Code would do is provide a platform for popular displeasure over exemptions for tradition, and anti-woman bias.
Quebec Prime Minister Jean Charest agrees that one should not barter off the rights of women in the name of "respect for traditions." And he emerged from a caucus meeting on October 8th to announce: "There is an issue that concerns me greatly: equality between the sexes. The position paper drafted by the Quebec Council for the Status of Women makes an important recommendation, and we'd like to act on this promptly."
The position paper (avis) in question, published September 27th, proposes that the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms be amended to guarantee, in no uncertain terms, that "the right to equality between the sexes… be respected in every instance, and [that] one… never infringe upon on this right, be it for reason of religious freedom." Women's Council president Christiane Pelchat later remarked that "the avis also seeks to prove that… boundaries to religious freedom must set, as a matter of course."
"Islam" does not appear in either Drouin's or the Women's Council documents, but each has made clear that radical Islam is driving the agenda. Pelchat writes: "The niqab… sends a message of the submission of a woman." "It is only women who are covered," she continues, and asks: "Are there Muslim men who are covered up?"
Quebecker discomfort over every sort of wrapper and covering was on display the other day, when Commissioner Gérard Bouchard confessed that the spectacle of a woman draped in cloth, trailing in the footsteps of her husband, "provokes even people like [Commissioner] Charles [Taylor] and myself." And to veiled convert sisters in Saint-Hyacinthe he joked: "I'm sorry for your conversion; this prevents me from greeting you (embrasser) as I should."
Marie-Andrée Chouinard writes in Le Devoir: "Politically charged, the veil devolves from religious principles tied to impurity and modesty. This clashes violently with the equality between the sexes dear to Quebec. The Women's Council fears as well that this same veil will become, imperceptibly and over time, something one takes for 'normal.' This is something to fear."
Quebeckers largely agree: A survey conducted by Montreal's La Presse and Le Soleil revealed that 92% of those surveyed oppose exceptions for "veiled voting," endorsed by Elections Canada in September. (Quebec province ruled against the practice in March.) And two-thirds surveyed would disallow the headscarf from school grounds and sports fields.
Quebec will not soon convince one and all to "accommodate" the Women's Council, or Mr. Drouin's "Way of Life in Quebec." But it is now clear that Quebeckers do not fear to impose "equality" on their own terms – and would just as soon trample conviction's toes to get it.
This is Mr. Drouin's wish – and reason enough for us to consider Quebec province. "Our strategy is to move Quebec's debate across the nation [and to the United States]," he tells me. "We're off and running and more than pleased with the results."