Saturday, 9 February 2019

People Codes

I'm old enough to remember that my first grade school had a dress code.  Girls wore a white shirt and blue overtunic or skirt with white tights.  Boys wore white shirts and blue pants.  Many schools now, both public and private, still have dress codes.

What is happening today in many places is what I call People Code.

Various governments in Quebec over the years have tried to mould the citizens into people who fit their ideal, with nigh disastrous results.  In 1977 the Charter of the French Language was introduced by the governing Parti Quebecois.  French was declared to be the official language of Quebec and commercial signs had to be in French.  As a result, hundreds of thousands of non-French-speaking people and businesses packed up and left, and Montreal's economy suffered.  The repercussions are still being felt today.

Just when a peaceful medium was thought to have been reached, in 2013 the once-again elected PQ government went a step further by proposing a Charter of Values.  This was an attempt to "affirm the values of State secularism" by, among other things, limiting the conspicuous display of religious symbols by state personnel: police officers, teachers, etc.  Curiously, elected politicians would be exempt, as well as the large crucifix on display in the National Assembly (it was deemed to be a "symbol of cultural heritage").

The backlash was immediate.  Regardless of the language used, this charter was a clear attack on people whose religious beliefs required them to wear certain articles of clothing - such as the hijab.  The leaders of most federal political parties condemned it, and there were protests in the streets of Montreal.  Incidents of harassment against women wearing the hijab increased.  The fallout cost the PQ dearly and they were soundly defeated in the next election.

Now we're seeing a similar attempt by the governing party Coalition Avenir Quebec (loosely translated as Coalition for the Future of Quebec).  Their election promises included a decrease in immigration levels, implementation of a values and French-language test for new immigrants, and a "secularism charter" that would ban state employees from wearing conspicuous religious symbols while at work.  Despite the threat of a constitutional challenge, the premier has vowed to use what is known as the Notwithstanding Clause in the Charter of Rights to get it done.

Does this sound familiar?

The United States is headed in a similar direction, with travel bans on people from certain Islamic countries and the frenzy over building a wall to keep the Hispanics out.  Several European countries have erected barriers at their borders to deter migrants from Asia.  Editorial writers are likening such moves to the rejection of Jewish immigrants in the 1930s.

A Muslim friend of mine is one of the kindest and most soft-spoken people I know.  She told me a while back that she had been subjected to harassment at her job because she wore a hijab.  As a result she had to make a difficult personal decision to not wear it in public in order to avoid more persecution.  What kind of message was that sending to her young sons, she wondered, that people had to deny a fundamental part of themselves in order to keep the peace?

This is not democracy.


  1. How sad that your friend had to make such a choice!

  2. I should visit this blog more often. I am quite unaware of how Quebec is doing. Thanks for the education.