Spare Us Your Moralisms, Fournier. Bill 62 Won’t Lead To ‘Harmony’

Dear Minister Jean-Marc Fournier,

I’m not sure how to start this. Polemics are not the way I prefer to spend my writing time. However, after reading your post defending Bill 62, I could not but interrupt my day to retort.

In the post, you present yourself as a voice of reason, one that is concerned with the protection of human rights while at the same time conscious of the “complexities” of “establish[ing] rules for living together in harmony that ensure respect for all.”

Quebec government House leader Jean-Marc Fournier responds to reporters questions at the entrance of a government caucus meeting on Sept. 19, 2017 at the legislature in Quebec City.

Unfortunately, in your attempt to do so, you rely on largely illogical arguments that unwittingly, or perhaps even wittingly, work to wither the “harmony” you think Bill 62 ensures.

First, you exclaim that the goal is not to ban religious symbols. I’m not sure why you felt that necessary to say; as if this were some sort of revelation. Of course, the goal is not to ban religious symbols, no one has claimed that. Those arguing against the bill are arguing about the oppressive nature of it, the fact that it unjustly impacts the lives of certain members of the community more than others. What you are calling a “religious neutrality bill” is inherently and unfairly charged against one segment of society and not the other. Of course it is not an attack on religious symbols; otherwise, how would you and proponents of the bill get away with hanging a cross in the national assembly?

There is a name for systems that disproportionately affect one religion and treats them differently from others: sectarianism.

What, may I ask, scares you about a woman with her face covered?

Second, you claim that the law is about security. What, may I ask, scares you about a woman with her face covered? Would you have us believe that Quebec is Baghdad and that we must be worried about jihadist impersonators planning to carry out terrorist attacks? Because, if so, we have a lot more to talk about than a woman’s choice of clothing.

So what, do tell, is this security concern that is so worrisome that we need to resort to dictating what can and cannot be worn by someone else when navigating mundane social interactions such as receiving public services? And what if someone with their face covered choseto be the person providing a public service? Do they then need to choose between their faith and their want to be active and participatory citizens? Or have we written that off as a possibility altogether through our process of othering?

But maybe we should believe that Quebec is Baghdad, for the entire notion of this bill is to preserve “harmony.” Of course, this is not to read too much into what you mean when you say that Bill 62 presents “a way that respects our rights” — I wonder who “our” is. I presume you think that we must be thankful that Bill 62 was passed and has averted the impending civil war bubbling under Quebec’s surface! Truly, this bill has saved us all!

Third, you refer to other countries in the occident adopting laws similar to this, an argument that amounts to nothing more than “all the cool kids are doing it.” Tell me, is this the standard of Canadian politics? The level of the widely debated topics you refer to at the beginning of your piece? Is this what it has been able to muster?

Tell me, do you find images of French policemen unclothing women on their beaches inspirational? Is this something for us to aspire to? Here you will be quick to say that this is not what Bill 62 is! Bill 62 is not that bad. How great of a nation we must be to reduce our debate on human rights to their level of vileness!

Finally, and as with every reactionary, you attempt to reinforce your claim with statistics with no consideration of social forces that may have led to those statistics.

76 per cent of Quebecers support this legislation and so does 68 per cent across Canada. For you, this is a statistic of endorsement, not one that elicits shock. You do not tie it with an overall rise in reactionary-nationalistic sentiment; you do not think that these numbers are reflective of the tremendous failures of Western governments to deal with a problem of their own creation.

No, for you, the people have spoken, and you are just fulfilling their wishes — opportunism.

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Mr. Fournier, this post is addressed to you, but it also isn’t.

We all, including you as a leader in your community and as a minister working within our government, have a responsibility to encourage mature debate around topics of social cohesion, inclusion and pluralism.

This responsibility is not only to safeguard the rights of minorities, it is a responsibility to stem the moralistic arguments and othering that can make notions of forced inclusion, such as Bill 62, seem palatable.

I really can’t wait to see what kind of “inclusion” armed officers forcing women to unveil their faces will lead to.

Mr. Fournier: using thinly veiled, sub-par rationalizations such as the ones your piece offers leads to nothing more than a lack of trust in our government which undermines the perception of us being part of a cohesive society. It is this form of rhetoric that is getting in the way of “promoting inclusion rather than isolation and withdrawal.”

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Author: Jade Saab