Editorial: Bill 62 Strengthens Systemic Racism and Sexism

Graphic Carl Bindman

After all the rallies organized by far right groups this year in Quebec, passing Bill 62, a law on so-called religious neutrality, is quite bizarre if not hypocritical on the part of politicians who sound like they’re against extremism.

If Premier Philippe Couillard, referring to far right rallies, thinks that “all these forms of extremism feed on one another,” then a law on religious neutrality does exactly that. It creates a xenophobic climate which has the potential to swell the ranks of racist groups.

The Muslim community and the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City suffered an act of terrorism when six people were gunned down in the middle of prayer on a Sunday night. That was in January of this year.

The mosque itself already has had its share of xenophobic harassment for years. Most notably, they received a giftwrapped pig’s head with a message saying, “Bon appétit,” in June 2016. But none of this has stopped the Quebec Liberal Party, in collaboration with the Parti Québécois and the Coalition Avenir Québec, from working to water down the bill last February.

In a deeply shameful moment, the National Assembly made into law the requirement for anyone facilitating or receiving municipal or provincial public services to have their faces uncovered last Wednesday. It leaves people with questions as to whether or not we can wear sunglasses on buses or even scarves in the winter. But most especially, it is infringing upon the rights and freedoms of women who wear the niqab or burka.

While the bill is presented with the idea of proving state religious neutrality while respecting section 10 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms protecting people against discrimination, it has an undeniable effect on the safety of Muslim women.

Anyone who voted to pass Bill 62 should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Already, Muslim women are facing hateful comments and acts of violence out in public. People aren’t born intrinsically having violent racist and sexist behaviour. They are conditioned by centuries of racist discourse and thousands of years of patriarchy. Now, the bill will only reinforce these behaviours in our society.

Media who encourage this climate of fear of the Other are also complicit. The obvious example for us at Concordia University is that time a TVA reporter brought a hidden camera to the Muslim Student Association office. It was a rotten and xenophobic attempt to slander the MSA by implying they converted people to religious extremism.

Protests against the religious neutrality bill came swiftly. Last Friday, people lined up at a stop on the 80 bus route, southbound, on Parc ave., while covering their faces. A bus driver even showed solidarity by covering his face and honking at protesters in support. Now, Montreal’s public transit agency says he may face consequences.

We at The Link are fully in support of civil disobedience against the Quebec’s new religious neutrality law. It is sexist and racist, no matter how it is presented by the politicians.

We have also seen calls to support the bus driver circulating on social media, and we endorse those calls. If you want to let the STM know that you support the bus driver, you can call (514) 786-4636, press 8 to continue in English, followed by pressing 6 to leave a comment, and finally press 1 to leave a complaint. We encourage readers to call the STM and complain about how this bus driver is being punished for upholding Muslim women’s civil rights. We also encourage readers to tell the representative that the STM should refuse to uphold Bill 62 at all.

Furthermore, we believe public sector unions are in a unique position to resist Bill 62. Not only is the provincial government telling its employees how to conduct their services, but it is also infringing upon their rights and freedoms. The Canadian Union of Public Employees, representing Montreal’s transit workers, said it doesn’t want the responsibility of acting like referees and wants more clarification. The Public Service Alliance of Canada has a firmer stance. It calls upon the government to scrap the law. All other unions and associations should follow PSAC’s lead.

The religious neutrality bill supports a climate of fear and insecurity and has no place in a society for people who wish to live in peace.