Jordan Michael Smith, Ottawa Sun, April 2, 2007
While nobody was watching, Quebec quietly became the most self-confident province in the country. A series of events over the past few years have shown Quebec to be proud of its liberalism, proud of Western civilization and proud of itself.
The latest involves the Quebec government giving a Muslim woman who wants to be a prison guard a choice: She could either remove her hijab or she could train to be a prison guard. But she could not do both. The woman chose the hjiab.
Predictably, Muslim advocacy groups have been crying racism. “It is an ultimatum, remove the hijab or you’re out of here,” said the head of the Muslim Council of Britain. “That’s not a security issue, this is much more a bigoted issue.”
The government stuck to its guns.
“As a security measure, the hijab cannot be accepted as an element of the uniform to execute the functions of a correctional officer,” a department spokesman said.
The Muslim Council called for compromisesomething that covers the hair and neck that isn’t a hijabbut the government refused.
This may seem unnecessarily rigid on the part of the government, but this is not an isolated issue. All across the Western world, Muslims are struggling to fit in, to balance the norms of liberal democracies with the requirements of their faith.
The wisest thing all societies can do is say, right from the beginning, there will be no compromise on liberal values. Muslims deserve equal rights, not special rights.
For that is what is being asked for here. The prison has a policy of not allowing headgear. This woman is saying her faith demands it and an exception should be made. If that is the case, then she must adapt, not Quebec.
This incident follows a long line Quebec has faced with reasonably consistent resolve. First there was the attempt to use Islamic tribunals to settle family disputes. Next there was the adoption of a code of conduct for immigrants by the small towns of Saint-Roch-de-Mekinac and Herouxville. Finally, there was the soccer referee who ejected a player for wearing a hijab on the pitch, a violation of the province’s sports regulations.
The Quebec government stood by principle and said yes to assimilation and integration and no to accommodation.
The Canadian Islamic Congress had called for “Smart Integration,” a halfway measure between integration and segregation.
What is smart is realizing the North American method of integration has worked for over a century. Canadians and Americans have welcomed and lived in relative harmony with immigrants since their founding.
Where did Quebec get this confidence? According to the Toronto Star, experts say that it comes from an affinity with France and seeing how the French have had trouble with their Muslim citizens.
I’m not so sure. I think it comes as much from fighting for the French-Canadian identity with English-Canadians for centuries. When one lives in a community that prizes identity and community solidarity, when one places importance on identity and heritage because this is the only way to survive, then one learns not to compromise.
If, like the rest of Canada, one can take heritage and identity for granted, one becomes lazy with it and might not even mind giving it up. For a while.
Then one realizes, according to the latest census, that by 2025 Canada will be a country made up by a majority of immigrants. All of a sudden, common liberal values and equal treatment become more important. When 2025 comes along, Quebec will be in the best position of all.