Quebec's ugly ethnic nationalism
A culture of intolerance and racism has been allowed to fester in the province of Quebec
The attack on a Quebec City mosque Sunday evening sent shock waves across the nation, but make no mistake: violent nationalism and racism are not new phenomena in Quebec.
There are plenty of anecdotal examples. Four decades ago, my father, desperate to escape Quebec's racist anti-Arab sentiment, moved to Toronto without speaking a word of English. Four years ago, my mother was told in an interview for a position in environmental conservation that she would only be offered a position if she would agree to remove her headscarf.
But it runs deeper than personal interactions. Québécois nationalism has always been an ethnic, as opposed to civic, nationalism — based in an ethno-cultural identity exclusive to descendants of French colonial settlers. Indigenous people know that firsthand, having endured generations of Québécois governments trying to claim sovereignty over First Nations territory.
Outwardly, Quebec nationalism is described as shared language, history and experiences; but implicitly, it's more about what you look like and where you come from than what you think about the fleur-de-lis.
Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch seems to have had some trouble finding broad support for her proposal to screen prospective visitors and immigrants for "Canadian values." That makes sense: in a multicultural society, where values and principles vary widely from Vancouver to rural Nova Scotia, conceptualizing what it means to be aligned with "Canadian values" is a long and arduous undertaking.
But in Quebec, where ethnic nationalism enjoys a more receptive audience, provincial governments can pursue these types of projects to much greater success. We saw that during the debate over reasonable accommodation in Quebec, with the 2007 Taylor-Bouchard commission investigating the impact of religious accommodation on Quebec's provincial identity. (The report concluded that the supposed threat caused by accommodation was more a "crisis of perception.")
A few years later, the province was embroiled in the same debate after the Quebec Soccer Federation issued a ban on turbans on the soccer pitch. The ban was eventually lifted, largely because of external pressure, but not before politicians — including then-premier Pauline Marois — voiced their support.
Then, in 2014, came the Parti Québécois's proposed "Charter of Values," which was explicit in its attempt to ban religious symbols of all sorts in the public service, except for those associated with "elements of [Quebec's] heritage."
The message, implicit in these examples and others is clear: non-white, non-Catholic "others" must assimilate into the Québécois identity.
It's too early to say for certain what motivated Alexandre Bissonnette, the suspect who now faces 11 charges in the deadly attack on a Quebec City mosque Sunday evening, but we can acknowledge that a culture of intolerance and racism has been allowed to fester in the province of Quebec. Where politicians should have tried to shut it down, they allowed — and even encouraged — it to breed.
Muslims and our allies will overcome this loss of dear brothers and sisters as we must, and we will honour their memories by imagining and building a new world, free of arcane ideologies in sha Allah.
With files from Alex Garcia.