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Outrage and Irony | Quebec Proposes Ban on Religious Wear


The political discourse in Canada over the past few weeks has been dominated by Quebec government’s proposal for a secular ‘Charter of Values’, put forth by the ruling Parti Quebecois (PQ). The most controversial aspect of the proposal is the ban on civil servants wearing religious clothing to ensure ‘religious neutrality’ of the state. The debate reached its climax this past Tuesday with the unveiling of appalling pictograms outlining how public employees can dress.

The proposed legislation is supposed to ban public employees from wearing headscarves, face veils, turbans, skullcaps and large crosses (small ones are okay). Whether it is a doctor at a hospital wearing a turban, or a hijab donning worker at a daycare – they will have to decide between work and religion. This militant and deviant expression of secularism fell short of just banning beards- it’s hypocritical, racist and self-contradictory.

The PQ claims it is doing so to maintain ‘religious neutrality’. If that is the case then it should perhaps start by banning the provinces’ most overt religious symbol: its flag.

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flag_quebecAlso known as the Fleurdelisé, Quebec’s flag, with its four fleurs-de-lis and a cross, is a beautiful expression of Christian symbolism. Historically associated with French Roman Catholic monarchs, the white fleur-de-lis symbolizes religious purity and chastity. The three petals are widely considered to represent the Holy Trinity; the band on the bottom represents Mary. Images of the Virgin Mary carrying the flower in her right hand are standard portrayals in Christian art.

Hypocrisy of the proposed legislation becomes evident when the more obvious issues that theoretically impact ‘religious neutrality’ are left unquestioned. Examples of this include the gigantic cross in the National Assembly, taking an oath on the Bible or Christmas trees. Will the government stop funding Catholic schools to attain this neutrality? What about funding for chaplaincy services? It appears Ms. Marios’ government is unable to distinguish between the concepts of a secular state and the inevitable interaction of that state between itself and religious agencies.

But the Quebec government is obviously not that uneducated. And that’s where the racist element comes in. Banning civil servants from wearing religious symbols doesn’t amend any supposed shortcomings of Quebec’s secularism. One can hold strong religious views without displaying it on their sleeves. In fact, there have been instance of justices refusing to marry same sex couples because they were opposed to gay marriage – they weren’t wearing a niqab when they did so. Claiming to champion secularism is simply PQ’s way to brazenly discriminate against minority groups with hopes of gathering support through identity politics.

Furthermore, this proposed legislation is self-contradictory. It effectively creates two classes of citizens; one which is noble enough to become civil servants and the other one is deprived of this privilege. The province is thus not ‘neutral’ by any standards – it’s openly saying that religious people ‘need not apply’. Even voicing such outrageous views, let alone implementing them, creates an unhealthy segregated society. If religious minorities can’t participate in public life, how could they ever hope to blossom into our social fabric? What is even scarier is that the PQ is pushing this charter on the private sector as well – this is the textbook definition of systematic discrimination.

Parti Quebecois is well aware that their proposals are so blatantly unconstitutional that they will be shot down by the courts. But that doesn’t matter as the objective of this political exercise has already been achieved; even if it meant having to stoop to an all time low. The old game of identity politics has allowed the party to stir up enough support from its small nationalist constituency to survive the next election.

Lakeridge-Health-adOne of the ironic aspects of this repulsive ‘Charter of Quebec Values’ is that it has indirectly helped exemplify values that most Canadians share. Editorials of all major newspapers are filled with condemnations of the charter. Politicians from all facets have openly opposed it. From leader of the opposition, Thomas Mulcair, to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau – even the notorious Minister Jason Kenney, released a picture of him wearing sikh headwear. The political leadership of Montreal, Quebec’s biggest city and economic hub, unanimously denounced the charter and thousands rallied against it. Even within the PQ there were dissenters; MP Maria Mourani was expelled from caucus for her opposition to this edict. In a rather innovative spirit to lure doctors, Ontario’s Lakeridge Hospital released a recruitment poster with a hijab wearing woman stating, “We don’t care what’s on your head; we care what’s in it.”

Despite the lunacy of this entire episode, it’s important to resist the temptation to stereotype Quebeckers as intolerant and narrow-minded. During my short time there, I found the Quebecois to be a warm-hearted and friendly people. Whether it was the affectionate ‘Bon Appétit’ from the lunch lady at Université Laval, the student protesters who gave me their iconic red square to wear, or my gracious French teacher who put up with my non-existent language skills; I have nothing but good memories. Let’s hope this debacle is forgotten as a cheap political gimmick which has unfortunately brought unprecedented shame to Quebec and the rest of Canada.

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Waleed Ahmed writes on current affairs for MuslimMatters. His work has focused on Muslim minorities, human rights, culture and international conflicts. Currently based out of Montreal, he holds a Ph.D. in particle physics from McGill University. Waleed also has a keen interest in studying Arabic and French. He spends his spare time reading, playing basketball and praying for Jon Stewart to run in the next presidential election. contact: waleed dot ahmed at



  1. alien59

    September 16, 2013 at 12:12 AM

    That is what they have more or less in Germany since several years. Working with hijab is very difficult, as very many private employers find the regulation for the civil servants good for their business.
    And the German legislation was mostly aimed at muslim women – as good as no Sikh there, or anyone this would apply to. Never heard of a jewish applicant being fired for wearing his skullcap.


      September 16, 2013 at 2:52 AM

      Speaking of Germany, is it true that they’ve also banned female Muslim students from wearing hijab within the public schools? If so then that would make Germany one of the most difficult Western countries to raise Muslims in, since on the one hand you have Muslims being banned from practicing their religion in schools and on the other hand, Germany is against allowing families to homeschool so now you can’t even educate your kids about Deen and Dunya from the comfort of your own home!

      • alien59

        September 16, 2013 at 6:58 AM

        No, there is no hijab-ban at public schools yet – although the idea surfaces every now and then. As you notice correctly, given the impossibility to homeschool children would make life still worse than in France, for example. Still, wearing hijab at school comes with a lot of problems – as I understand, less peer preasure, but too much prejudices from teachers.
        Today I read that some jugdes now try to ban hijab-wearing lawyers from their courtrooms – giving them the choice between taking it off or leaving. I have heard that before, but until rather recently there were hardly any hijabis working as lawyers. Becoming judge is anyway impossible and already during the obligatory stay at court after university wearing hijab is a problem that has caused a number of students to reconsider their choice of career.

        • RCHOUDH

          September 16, 2013 at 9:33 AM

          Thank you for this insight about Germany! Glad to hear there’s been no hijab bans in Germany yet and hopefully there won’t be (since the bans at work is problematic enough).

        • Fatima Ariadne

          September 19, 2013 at 2:30 AM

          Thank you very much for this information. My husband decided to take us to either Germany or Canada he wants to work there. Before reading this I always thought Canada was more muslim-friendly than US (or Germany), apparently that’s not the case!

          • alien59

            September 19, 2013 at 3:04 AM

            No, you were right. In spite of this new discussion – which, as I understand, is only relevant for Quebec – going to Canada would make much more sense. Germany has no immigration policy at all, without nearly perfect German your husband would have lots of difficulties to find a job – if you would be allowed to work at all – and hijab in daily life is much more of a problem than in Canada.
            It is just that they do not yet ban hijab at public schools ….

          • Waleed Ahmed

            September 21, 2013 at 9:57 PM

            Canada is a very tolerant and welcoming society; this story is unique to quebec which is perhaps the one part where the anti-Muslim groups have a political base. This is in part because of Quebec’s unique history…its generally always been at odds with rest of Canada…hence there’s always been a separatist fringe wanting their own country.

  2. Jake

    September 16, 2013 at 12:56 AM

    It would be good if this blog also wrote a little bit about muslim matters worldwide.

    Muslim groups firebombing churches in Indonesia, the outright ban on building Churches in Malaysia, etc. Or the groups attacking Christian children in the middle east. Comparatively, the ban on all religious wear (not just islamic wear) is benign. It’s not clear whether its because this is considered appropriate, and the ban on religious wear is considered inappropriate, or due to ignorance. But if it isn’t due to ignorance, how’s that for hypocrisy?

    • Joeseph

      September 16, 2013 at 6:10 AM

      This website is intended to spread a positive message and benefit the Muslim community. If you think that every Muslim is to blame for what other Muslims are doing in the name of their religion, then you should blame every Christian for the Crusades, or every Hindu for every riot in eastern Indian states. How about we write long articles on some Christian website that is meant for the enjoyment and benefit of the Christian community about how evil those Christian people are and how they harmed the world as a whole. Of course that’s never happening. And here you are acting so intelligent saying that the Muslims on this website are “ignorant” because they would rather not be reminded of the actions of a few? Who is the hypocrite now?

      And just to note, you clearly did not read the article, as it made it quite evident that there is quite a bit of inert religiosity involved in Quebec’s political and social history ranging from court rulings to the flag itself. If they want to secularize their government so much, they should also overturn all of their court rulings and get a new flag too! That’s not happening… This legislation completely takes away a Muslim woman’s right to dress in a way she finds pleasing to herself and her creator, and strips her of her choice…

      Please go hate on Muslims elsewhere… most don’t have the time that I had to respond to such hate-filled “criticisms”
      Good Day

      *This comment was edited by the MM Comments Team in order to comply with our Comments Policy*

      • Jake

        September 17, 2013 at 12:41 AM

        My point is this Joeseph, i very much understand and agree with the intention of this website to spread positivity. I’ve also arranged, worked on and continue to work on a number of projects with similar intention (although not web communities, more on funding and production work related to islamic banking and charities). Of course, whether you believe this or not, is up to you.

        And because it seems i offended you very personally, I’ll apologise. I was born christian but left the faith (many i met were unable to have a non emotional discussion about the harder questions and i lost respect for it) decades ago. I was from a Muslim country before emigrating, and some of my best friends from back home are Muslims.

        What i’m saying is this, unless your intention is to simply preach to each other, it may be useful to also address and perhaps show that not all Muslims are the way some in those other countries are. That not all support those actions, and that there are many more Muslims who can respect their fellow man as equals. If Christians and Buddhists attacked Muslims, I would criticise it in the harshest ways possible, would you not? I would expect my Christian and Buddhist friends to do the same unless they were the most hardcore supporters of their faith (and probably wouldn’t be considered friends). For a great example: It shows Muslims defending a Church. That story should be shared. Perhaps when there is more of this than the alternative, there will be more mutual appreciation and kindness.

        Of course you may criticise the Crusades, i do it very frankly with my Christian friends. But imagine the difference if the Crusades were going on today across multiple countries, and mosques were getting firebombed, or were simply banned from being built in multiple countries across the world in Christian countries. No one i know today has ever criticised Muslims for the Ottoman empire’s conquests.

        The point you miss from my post is that what you’re complaining about, Muslim countries do. Here’s a simple example: “This legislation completely takes away a Muslim woman’s right to dress in a way she finds pleasing to herself and her creator, and strips her of her choice” creator aside- surely you know many muslim countries actually enforce Muslim womens wear on non-muslims (my wife was made to wear a head scarf for example). If it is considered acceptable that a non muslim be made to follow islamic principles, why is it not considered acceptable that a muslim be made to follow non islamic principles? This, to me is a question worth asking and discussing, but it seems instead to have been taken as criticism.

        To others who hold the same view as Joeseph, i apologise for having offended and will not post again.

        Thanks Aly, regarding some examples, 2 quick links: (indonesia) (malaysia)

        • ZAI

          September 17, 2013 at 8:49 PM

          “If it is considered acceptable that a non muslim be made to follow islamic principles, why is it not considered acceptable that a muslim be made to follow non islamic principles?”

          I for one agree with you in principle.
          Is what’s going on lately in France, Quebec, etc. wrong? Yes.
          But is there hypocrisy regarding this issue amongst Muslims, therefore making their opposition to this hollow? Unfortunately…also yes.

          That being said, the issue pertaining to clothing specifically, is very nuanced…don’t you agree? Secular and/or Western countries say it’s about ‘freedom’, but is there absolute freedom? Answer is of course no. There are limits in most public areas.

          A woman cannot, for instance, walk around bare chested in public in the United States, freedom or not. So Muslims who object to this phraseology have a valid point when they say it’s not really freedom, but a WESTERN STANDARD that’s being forced on them.

          On the other hand, you’re right that it makes Muslims hypocritical to object to ideological or cultural definitions of freedom in Western nations that are twisting secularism, while promoting ideological/religious positions in Muslim majority nations. It’s definitely a quandry.

          I don’t think there is a solution to this, except to maybe just take a vote.
          Put out referendums in Muslim nations whose result requires more than a simple majority, and set that as a minimum standard…and as for Western nations, Muslims maybe need to make a hard decision and move to other countries if they want to adopt maximal standards like the niqaab and places like France or Quebec make that impossible.

          Personally I think the United States straddles a good moderate ground and leaves it up to individuals within a broad spectrum of choice, but if Europe/Quebec/Muslim majority nations who insist on ideological positions cannot abide that, then a vote and making a hard choice of where you will live seems like the only choice.

        • halid

          November 17, 2013 at 5:41 PM

          pls jake! are trying to say that those dresses ( mini skirts and otthers) are christian dresses?

    • Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

      September 16, 2013 at 6:48 AM

      Dear Jake

      Thank you for your concerns regarding these matters. They are indeed very pertinent and should be covered. Could you assist us in getting a factual opinion piece on these issues? We would be pleased to publish them if they meet our editorial requirements. You may submit it via

      Best Regards
      Comments Team Lead

  3. M.G.H

    September 16, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    Small Cross okay?? What about tattoos, this will be so hard to enforce. Are lawsuits as prevalent in Quebec as they are here in America???

    • Richard Dey

      August 20, 2014 at 8:20 AM

      Dress codes are hardly more rational than undress codes. I recently turned away from to a wake outside Montreal because I was “not properly dressed” in a necktie. Where was I? The Ritz Carleton? My dead friend was a practicing nudist, for heaven’s sake. The center of attention is a gutted manikin, and we’re worried about how the corpse is going to view us? Weren’t we born into the world of high fashion stark naked? Don’t we get emergency Foley catheters in public with our pants unzipped?in front of the whole world and the liability cameras! Is not what is “appropriate” only appeals to blind people like myself? Varick Vanardy the novelist has the answers: a nudist colony for the blind — and answers the serious question “What to wear to wear to a naturist funeral”; it’s a short list. If some superficial fashion offends, wear a sleeping mask — and pretend you’re a celebrity on “What’s My Line?”. Being blind to the ugliness of the world isn’t all that bad. It’s like being a cigarette smoker: one always has something useful to do.

  4. M.G.H

    September 16, 2013 at 11:21 AM

    Less than 20 years ago you were not allowed to wear a hijab while working at most retail stores ..then someone sued these stores and everything changed.
    I am happy this is in the news..More publicity for the Hijab.

  5. Nick Lynch

    September 25, 2013 at 9:55 AM

    Thank you for the article Waleed. While I’m new to posting on this site I do often follow news stories covering controversies affecting religious groups elsewhere. This post really piqued my interest, and I would like to raise a few points, particularly around the key accusation that the legislation is ‘hypocritical, racist and self-contradictory’.

    I’d wager that you know far more about the history and culture of Quebec given that you live in Canada and I don’t. From my understanding, Quebec’s culture is highly unique and differs quite remarkably from most other parts of Canada in that the vast majority speak French as their mother tongue. It’s quite possible (although I don’t have evidence for this) that many, perhaps most, of Québécois people are very proud of their close ties in history and culture to France. As you said above, they have often been at odds with the rest of Canada so I’m not overly surprised that they have adopted legislation which seems to have more in common with France.

    Which brings me on to the first point – their hypocrosy based upon the fact that they use the bible oaths, funding to Catholic schools and bearing the Fleurdelisé, all whilst reasoning that the legislation is due to the need to maintain ‘religious neutrality’.

    I completely and utterly agree with your assertion of hypocrisy concerning the oaths and the funding. Advocating such measures is not conducive to ‘religious neutrality’, in my opinion.

    Concerning the flag, I won’t ramble on about how Turkey’s situation was similar to this because I see your point, and yes a region’s flag is about as large a symbol as you can get, certainly a lot larger than an individual’s clothing / jewellery. Perhaps they ought to change their flag to remove the cross, although I would suggest that the flag is less a religious symbol and more of an acknowledgement to the flags used by the French-Canadian forces in the 18th Century who defeated the British. As an atheist and a Brit, I would be more than happy for them to change the flag! Alas, jest aside, they won’t, because the flag is part of their identity and history. Personally, I think they brought these legislations about in order to be a little bit more like France and a little bit less like the rest of Canada, thereby edging towards their ultimate goal of being a totally separate state. I may be wrong of course.

    The second point is their racism. I’m not sure if I followed your reasoning, but I believe you were asserting that banning religious symbols for civil servants does not solve the overall supposed problem of non-secularism in Quebec as a whole, and that the legislation is aimed at discouraging people of some religions in working there, and is hence racist? Please correct me if I did not follow your reasoning, if this is the case I would be grateful if you could elloborate further.

    If I am correct in your reasoning, please could you specify which race or races are being targeted? All religions, not just Islam, are affected here, and even if it was just Islam, that does not consitute a race does it?

    The last point was the self-contradiction, based on the notion that discouraging certain groups from working at the civil service means that the PQ are in no way ‘neutral’, so that their initial aim of ‘religious neutrality’ goes out of the window.

    My understanding of the term ‘religious neutrality’ is of having no stance with regard to religion. If their employees were to wear religious items / clothing then that would be going against this stance surely? If anyone of any group wants to work there they can do so long as they conform to their dress-code. The real question here is to what extent will people of certain groups be dissuaded from applying based on the legislation? That’s a difficult one to foresee, and the answers will be different according to the groups I guess.

    So, for the three points I guess there’s a ‘partly agree’ (hypocrisy); an ‘almost certainly disagree (racism – depending on if I interpreted your argument correctly) and an ‘unsure, but erring on the side of disagreement’ (self-contradiction). I look forward to hearing a response!

    • Waleed Ahmed

      September 25, 2013 at 12:36 PM

      thanks for the comment and the detailed analysis of my ramblings. To address your points

      – I consider the legislation racist because it directly target ethnic minorities and their religious traditions. Furthermore, it’s not just an issue of ‘public servants’. PQ is actively advocating this be adopted as a guideline in the private sector too.

      – i consider it self-contradictory for a few reasons: it doesn’t unite society as PQ claims its supposed to – it creates two classes in society; also, it doesn’t actually do anything to advance ‘secularism’ in Quebec…you can be an ideologue or fundamentalist without making a show of it at work; lastly, to me its not ‘religious neutrality’. To me religious neutrality means the state is indifferent to religion…doesn’t care about it and keeps a separation between church and state. Actively banning or discriminating religious people doesn’t fit my view of ‘religious neutrality’.

  6. Nick Lynch

    September 26, 2013 at 8:41 AM

    Many thanks for your swift reply, much appreciated.

    I’ve read a little more into it and it seems like a highly complex issue, with most french-speaking Québécois agreeing with the legislation and most Anglophones against it. Because most Québécois are French-speaking, the result is that the overall majority seem to support it. I didn’t previously grasp the magnitude of the divide in that province and its difference to the rest of Canada.

    With regard to the racism, in banning headscarves, face veils, turbans, skullcaps and large crosses, I agree that the legislation directly targets religious traditions, after all they have pretty much stated that this is their intention. I’m not convinced it’s racist though, but I guess we can agree to disagree on this point.

    My reasoning is that all religions seem to be affected – no-one of any faith is allowed to outwardly symbolize their beliefs, so they’re not discriminating against any group in particular. The only thing they’re discriminating (if that is the right word) against is religion itself, and what race is that?

    Of course, people of any religious group can work there so long as they do not outwardly symbolize this in their apparel, although I realise there are certain groups in certain religions who cannot or are highly unlikely to refrain from such symbolism. Examples include Sikh men, and I believe Muslim women, although feel free to correct me on this. Even given this, I don’t think this is enough to constitute racism.

    With regard to the self-contradiction, yes I do share most of your views, particularly around the ‘religious neutrality’ point. Having no religious stance does not seem to tie in with banning religious traditions in the workplace, unless PQ’s statement was intended to mean that each member of their workforce would have to be seen to be ‘religiously neutral’. I don’t see how that could unite society though!

    As in my previous post I suspect that some of their reasoning is flawed, and perhaps they’re promoting this legislation to be a little more like France and a little less like Canada, who knows?

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  9. Thoughts

    February 23, 2014 at 5:40 PM

    Very well written article!

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