Volume 51, Issue 2: Spring 2017

Québecers mobilize against intolerance and exclusion

The testimony gathered by media covering the January shooting at a Québec City mosque brings to light a somber situation. According to a representative of that city’s Muslim community, many no longer go to mosques for fear of being identified, while some women have stopped wearing hijabs, hiding their faith for fear of being fired from their jobs. (As one of them put it, “It’s enough that I am black; that is something I cannot hide.”) He also noted that the widows of those who were murdered are mostly hijab-wearers who now fear that they will have difficulty finding a job to support themselves.

I find it hard to contain my anger against those who have stirred hatred on trash-radio broadcasts and in the mainstream media. And those who have done so for their own political purposes bear considerable responsibility for the climate of intolerance that they helped to create, if not normalize.

Take the case of Louise Mailloux, a former Parti Québécois candidate in the riding of Gouin, who condemned Québec solidaire MNA Amir Khadir during a parliamentary committee in 2014 for tacitly endorsing a “segregation of the sexes” because he once sat in a gender-divided mosque. She even brandished photos without any objection from Bernard Drainville, then Minister of Democratic Institutions and the driving force behind the Charter of Québec Values.

Or consider how the Bloc Québécois resorted to Islamophobic tactics as they began to plummet in the polls during the last federal election. One of their campaign advertisements noted that NDP leader Thomas “Mulcair supports wearing the niqab” at citizenship ceremonies and asked if we should all “hide our faces” to vote for the NDP. Another ad consisted of an animated cartoon of oil leaking from a pipeline, forming a puddle, and then turning into a niqab.

During the recent Parti Québécois leadership campaign, Jean-François Lisée, who ultimately won the race, mused openly about Kalashnikovs hidden under burkas. And this was not the first time that the PQ mobilized fear of foreigners and the Muslim community for electoral gains.

But on the fateful night of January 29, it felt like Québec society was torn apart. With that irreparable deed, it was as if a valve had broken.

Québecers clearly felt deeply concerned by these events and the day after the attack, many people participated in acts of solidarity with the Muslim community, affirming the idea that Québec belongs to all those who live there. Activities were organized in many municipalities including Montreal, Québec City, Laval, Longueuil, Val-David, Sherbrooke, SaintJérôme, Sutton, Gatineau (Aylmer), Granby, Trois-Rivières, Boucherville, Drummondville, Cowansville, La Pocatière, Cap-aux-Meules Gaspé, Châteauguay, Rimouski, Matane, Saguenay, Rouyn-Noranda, Ville-Marie, Thetford Mines, Repentigny and St. Jean-sur-Richelieu.

No society is monolithic and Québec isn’t any different. While PQ leader Lisée duplicitously denies the very existence of systemic racism in Québec and engages in dogwhistle politics with his references to the defence of Québec values, the ethno-nationalist tide is being actively challenged by a vision of Québec as a multi-ethnic society for which the real challenge is gaining democratic control in the interest of society as a whole. For those of us who share that vision, the demonstrations of solidarity in the wake of the attack are a hopeful sign.

Of course, it is also important to come to grips with Canada’s role in promoting politics of exclusion. Since the events of September 11, federal policies have targeted immigrants, particularly those from the Middle East, and there has been an upsurge of racial profiling. At the same time, Canada remains one of the largest exporters of weapons to the region, contributing to the violence that has forced tens of thousands to leave their countries in search of peace.

Translated by David Hugill.

André Frappier is a regular contributor to Dimension. He also serves on the editorial board of the online weekly Presse-toi à gauche and has been a member of the FTQ Montréal Labour Council for many years. André ran for Québec solidaire in the riding of Crémazie.