Critics stoke hijab debate in Quebec

An outcry sparked by a call not to ban ‘religious articles’

Critics stoke hijab debate in QuebecUsually, an organization with no governmental power issuing a policy statement on a sleepy spring weekend gets about as much attention as one might expect. As the province’s largest women’s rights organization recently found out, however, this equation doesn’t apply in Quebec when Muslims and the always-prickly debate over reasonable accommodation are involved.

La Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ) recently announced its opposition to the banning of “religious articles” from government offices, schools and hospitals, which would effectively allow the wearing of crucifixes or yarmulkes by public employees. Though no such ban yet exists, critics pounced on the FFQ declaration, saying it would also allow for hijabs and chadors–symbols of Muslim repression of women to many.

“The debate is relaunched,” declared Le Devoir, referring to the two-year crise de coeur over the place of religious minorities in Quebec society. This newest kerfuffle even made its way to Quebec’s National Assembly, where opposition parties urged the governing Liberals to disavow the FFQ statement.

So is Quebec heading for yet another public debate of the type spurred in 2006? Probably not, says a noted political scientist. “Things are calmer now than they were,” says McGill’s Jacob Levy. He points to the demise of the ADQ—the political party that exploited the debate for political gain, and now a leaderless rump of six MNAs. The government-appointed commission examining reasonable accommodation published its report a year ago, and has scantly been mentioned since. Quebecers are exhausted from the debate and, like everyone else these days, have more pressing things to worry about. “Two years later, those debates, at best, look like a luxury that we couldn’t afford now,” Levy said.

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