This one's not about Québec. Nor is it about Canada. Actually, it's not even news.
Radio-Canada radio broadcast a series of three reports [in French only] on the hopes, the successes and the broken dreams of immigrants from Morocco. The reporter interviewed a young Moroccan lady who had just obtained her visa to move to Québec. He asked her if she was aware of the additional hurdle that wearing the Islamic headscarf might represent when looking for a job in her new home country. "I'd rather not think about it." She replied. "It's actually harder in Morocco as well."
I was befuddled by the candor of her reply; it sounded almost trivial. I suddenly wondered about the appropriateness of our country's famed tolerance. I know many Canadians will move heaven and earth to provide a Muslim woman with a lady doctor, but I can't help wonder... do women in Muslim countries actually have such abundant access to lady doctors? If not, they obviously cope with it.
A young Egyptian woman has been making headlines for the past two weeks. Her getting expelled for wearing the niqab has revived the whole reasonable accommodation debate in Québec, and even Canada. The tone used to cover the story and reactions have generally been supportive of the government's decision. Although these are empirical observations, the population seems remarkably in tune "a mari usque ad mare" on the matter. Some commentators from other provinces even seem to be looking up to Québec for leadership to keep the niqab out of education.
In Egypt, the government has already taken action on the issue and announced last October that the niqab would be prohibited in many educational institutions. A report states that "the move represents a clear choosing of sides in a religious tug-of-war [...]. Whereas conservatives believe that Egyptian society has yielded for too long to western secularism, many Egyptians, including the government, see the recent rise of religious conservatism as a foreign import."
I'm not a big supporter of the conspiracy theory, but I can't help thinking that our country's no bound tolerance is greeting fundamentalists who have a hard time being accepted in their own country of origin. Is the great Canadian tolerance being exploited by extremists? What kind of citizens is the Canadian mosaic fostering? What's the proper balance?
There's a void that needs to be filled. Governments have steered clear of the issue making room for groups of interest with their own agenda. It seems fairly clear that the general opinion recognizes the need for guidelines.
In 2008, the Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences submitted its final report. Its main conclusion recommended the drafting of a white paper on secularism that would clarify and formalize the implicit secularism model patiently edified in Québec. The time is ripe.
In the meantime, the young Egyptian woman who was expelled from her French class made a formal complaint to the Commission des droits de la personne. It's a euphemism to state that the adjudicator in charge of the case has an important decision to make. Let's hope the verdict, whatever it is, doesn't backlash on all minorities.