Bill 21: Defending Discrimination and Oppression in the Name of Secularism

Statement by the Communist Party of Quebec and la Ligue de la jeunesse Communiste du Quebec

The Young Communist League and the Communist Party of Quebec condemn Bill 21, “on the secularism of the State”, introduced by the Legault Government on March 28. The law is secular only in name. In fact, behind the wording chosen to mislead Quebecers – even the most progressive – hides the true nature of the fundamentally reactionary, right-wing, and nationalistic Legault government.

Under the pretext of wanting to establish rules governing the secularism of the Quebec state, Legault and Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Simon Jolin-Barrette, prohibit the wearing of any religious sign by officials “in a position of authority”, which, according to them, includes teachers, police officers, judges, etc. Although all religious signs are in theory banned, in a context of ambient Islamophobia, there is no doubt that veiled Muslim women are the first targets, which is also evidenced by the measure that anyone who wishes to receive a service from the State will have to uncover their face “for purposes of identification”.

In fact, the real objective of this law is not only to divide, but to trivialise, illegalise and institutionalise the oppression and marginalization of which the Muslim people are already victims, but also all those who decide to wear a religious sign (except perhaps a Catholic Cross, for which there will be no strip search, promised Jolin-Barette). Moreover, we must not fall for the removal of the crucifix from the National Assembly which is only a maneuver to make us believe that all religions are treated the same.

We Communists are proud partisans and supporters of secularism, a fundamentally progressive value. However, we denounce any attempt to instrumentalise secularism in order to justify racist, misogynous, Islamophobic and discriminatory positions against different religions. Secularism has absolutely nothing to do with religious signs. It only prescribes the neutrality of the state and its institutions towards religions, which means that laws cannot be based on religious considerations, that justice cannot be done in the name of God, and that public services must be provided to all without regard to their religious beliefs. Whether or not the person delivering these services is in a position of authority, wearing an apparent religious sign does not give any indication as to his or her competence and ability to provide the service impartially. Whatever their clothing, all the people who are employed within public institutions are carrying their identity, cultural and religious baggage. Nevertheless, they are able to distinguish between their functions and their religions in a secular context.

In fact, Quebec has been a secular state since 1960. It has been a long time since the influence of religious congregations has been allowed to be cited in public affairs. Secularism therefore poses no problem: it is accepted by the vast majority of the population and applied de facto. With Bill 21, the Legault Government does not make the state more secular than it already is. On the contrary, this law  forces individuals of so-called minority religions to adjust to the will of the majority, whose religious practices do not imply the wearing of visible particular signs. In doing so, it creates a flagrant injustice that runs counter to the very principle of state secularism, which requires that all religions be treated equally. Contrary to the Government’s contention, the law will not end the debate on secularism or strengthen the unity of Quebeckers around “living together”.

On the contrary, the law re-opens the gaping wound created 10 years ago at the time of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation, and maintained by the various political forces who use it as a diversion when imposing neo-liberal measures, austerity policies, or simply for purely populist and electoralist reasons. Meanwhile, identitarians, nationalists, white supremacists, fascists like La Meute, are organizing themselves and trying to make us believe that immigration, and especially Muslim immigration, would threaten the survival of the nation. With their speeches advocating the defence of the Christian West against Islamic influence, they, not veils, are the ones who, at the end of the day, present the greatest danger against secularism.

With this revised and/or augmented version of the PQ Values Charter and the Parti Liberal du Quebec Act 62, the Legault Government does not make a difference. While this debate monopolizes attention, criticisms of the 2019 budget go unnoticed – a budget which, despite historical surpluses, keeps Quebeckers under the austerity imposed by the Liberals in 2014.

Making the debate on secularism a fundamental societal issue not only helps to legitimize the most reactionary, identitarian speech, but also instrumentalizes the feeling of Quebecers who are struggling against oppression support for this Bill that it presents to them as a necessity for Quebec’s assertion before the rest of Canada.

The national oppression suffered by Quebec in the Canadian federation is very real, and that is the real reason for the support of a significant part of the Quebec population to Bill 21, not, as the English-speaking press says, an alleged natural propensity to racism and Islamophobia. In fact, racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia have the wind in their sails in all the advanced capitalist societies around the world. English-speaking Canada does not escape this trend.

However, there is a difference in the way these reactionary ideologies are articulated in Quebec, where the situation of national oppression can be exploited to facilitate their penetration into society and to foment divisions within the popular masses; without these divisions, this situation of national oppression could easily become a catalyst for social struggles.

Thus, we welcome the decision of the education unions (FNEEQ-CSN, FAE, CSQ), the CSN and the Conseil Central de Montréal (CSN) as well as the Federation of Women of Quebec who have not hesitated to denounce Bill 21, reaching out to all persons affected by this law and prioritizing unity of the working class in Quebec without regard to its ethnic origin or religion.

For this is what it is all about: uniting the working class and the popular masses of Quebec against their common enemy. As long as this common enemy is not clearly identified, and as long as it is not able to assimilate that the Quebec working class is both Muslim, white, racialized, “pure-laine” or immigrant, this unity will be illusory.

In the end, we Communists will never forget that the question of class must be a factor of togetherness, and not of division.

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