The Guardian newspaper recently called it: Bill 21 is racism under the pretense of secularism.
It’s like that dream that you might be having right now. You know the one where your CAQ-voting neighbours suddenly realize that they are the only person at the Halloween party wearing black face and all the black and brown people are looking at them with a combination of pity and disgust as they try to explain that it’s just a costume, that they are Aladdin and they didn’t mean them any ill will or offence? But then when they wake up they realize that reality is actually far worse than that: that they voted for Mr. Legault, a shabby imitation of an aging and out-of-touch Jacques Parizeau, blaming money and the ethnic voters for his problems. A man who has looked like a deer in the headlights for most of this pandemic, alongside his man Mr. Arruda, in press conference after press conference without laugh tracks or any hint of irony accomplishing what no other eastern premier has managed to do, which is to make Doug Ford look like a fu**ing rock star in how well, in comparison, he is handling this public health crisis.
Mr. Legault, if you ask him, will tell you that he is not a racist, and when asked about the tragedy in Joliette, Que, despite what his inquiry concluded, will say that there is no system of racism in Quebec. It’s as though he does not understand what the word systemic means, or perhaps he does and is disrespectful in assuming that you do not? So there are things that, as individuals and sometimes as a collective, we don’t see. We all have blind spots and make mistakes, and some of these life lessons, if not fatal and oft-repeated, are learned. There is no shame in it; it is the human condition we all practice to get better. It’s a case-in-point that our province absolutely bristles with Christian religious symbols – from how we swear to the Saints that name our streets, our towns, our schools, our hospitals and darn near everything else – right down to even our cheese and our chicken dinners, and to the names we give to those we hold most dear, our children.
Christian symbols are on everything and are everywhere, so pervasive that they have become invisible to us in our daily lives. And yet, as we live in this forest of Christian symbols, we turn our focus like an electron microscope onto one tiny little terrifying speck: a Muslim headscarf as if it were somehow a religious virus that will infect our children and our society. All I can say is: Give me a fu**ing break. Are we that small and petty? Are we that frightened? According to the Guardian newspaper, yes, we are. Bill 21, they report, is very popular amongst Quebecers. Really? Who? You? Can this be how the rest of the world sees Quebec? Petty? Small? Fearful? Maybe. But that article was written last week, and today we have a chance to change that.
As they say, the road to hell can be paved with good intentions and over time there have been a lot of bad ideas passed into law that history has not looked upon kindly, of those Bill 21 will surely not be the last.
Today we can all try to imagine how it feels to walk a mile in Ms. Anvari’s shoes these past weeks and acknowledge the hurt we are causing her and our fellow Quebecers, our neighbours, under the pretense of secularism, with this bad, racist idea, and we can start the work to fix it, to heal, and grow stronger together.