Posted on September 10, 2021

Canadian Leaders Finally Talked About Racism in Quebec and It Got Heated

Justin Ling, Vice, September 3, 2021

The first debate in Canada’s federal election, entirely in French, saw temperatures rise when the four major party leaders began confronting the problem of systemic racism.


Hanging over the debate was Quebec’s Law 21, which bans religious symbols for many government employees: Particularly, cops, judges, and teachers. The law has already had a devastating effect on many religious minorities’, particularly Muslim women, ability to find jobs in the province.

The sparks began to fly when Liberal leader, and incumbent, Justin Trudeau was asked about the law. He repeated his long-held position: That he fervently opposes the law, and that he would consider using government resources to fight the law in court later on. But, for now, he’s waiting to see how ongoing legal challenges pan out.

Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, an ardent defender of the law, has often used it as a wedge issue to bill himself as the sole defender of Quebec’s unique social climate. Even if Trudeau is not yet challenging the law, Blanchet said, he’s likely funding groups that are through the federally-run Court Challenges Program, which provides money to minority groups looking to strike down laws. {snip}


Blanchet seized on the opportunity, and insisted that the fervour over the law—which every major civil liberties group and religious organization agrees is discriminatory—was an example of Quebec-bashing. Law 21 was not, Blanchet insisted, an example of “systemic racism.”

“I want to hear Mr. Trudeau, and I really, really, really want to hear from Mr. Singh—who really called us racists—that Quebecers are not racists,” Blanchet said, turning to face NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, the first non-white leader of a major federal party. “And that not recognizing the notion of systemic racism from the Government of Quebec is a legitimate position.”

Blanchet particularly invoked University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran, who hasn’t just insisted that Quebec suffers from systemic racism but who has argued that the province is “like Alabama 60 years ago.” Blanchet repeatedly tried to suggest that Singh was of the same mind as Attaran.