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It didn’t take long.
Within hours of the Quebec provincial election on Oct. 1, premier-designate François Legault was congratulated by the extreme right. His right-of-centre Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) had been propelled into power, in major part, by identity-driven politics: Legault's promises to limit immigration, implement French-language and values tests for new immigrants (and expel them, if they failed), and ban religious symbols (and the people wearing them) from public service positions of authority.
While these promises have been welcomed by a segment of the population, many Quebecers worry that the measures will affect social cohesion, paint immigrants as an unwanted and undesirable threat, and marginalize a small segment of the Quebec population in the pursuit of an ill-defined and, ultimately, highly discriminatory government-sanctioned faux secularism.
First, France's extreme right National Rally leader (previously known as the National Front), Marine Le Pen tweeted out her congratulations. Sharing a newspaper headline that declared that Quebec had voted in a nationalist, anti-immigrant government, she rejoiced that, contrary to the Liberals' wishes for more immigrants, Quebecers had just resoundingly voted for less immigration.
Contrairement à ce que serinaient les libéraux immigrationnistes béats, les Québécois ont voté pour moins d’immigration. La lucidité et la fermeté face au défi migratoire est le point commun des élections de quasiment tous les pays du monde confrontés à cet enjeu. MLP #Québec pic.twitter.com/FgtSpNUszS— Marine Le Pen (@MLP_officiel) October 2, 2018
To his credit (and probably in embarrassed panic), Legault was quick to tweet out and reject any association with Le Pen's party. "I reject all association with Le Pen. Quebecers are welcoming and generous. We will welcome thousands of immigrants each year, but we will do it in a way that promotes integration. We will take fewer of them, but we will take care of them."
Legault might have been quick to distance himself from the far-right's endorsement, but he might want to stay close to his Twitter feed because Le Pen wasn't the only one expressing her glee on the social media platform. The previous night, Faith Goldy also joyfully congratulated Legault and his party. A white nationalist and former The Rebel Media reporter, Goldy is currently campaigning for the Toronto mayoralty on an anti-immigration platform. She often talks about "white genocide," a racist trope that says white people are the object of a systematic genocide through non-white immigration and multiculturalism.
In her tweet, she shared her "high hopes" that under the CAQ "Quebec" would be "the handmaiden to our deliverance from the grip of open border globalists who seek to destroy this nation." Aside from her jarring use of nonsensical flowery language, there's a certain irony in watching Goldy congratulate Legault on potentially "saving" a nation, he himself (a former PQ member and sovereigntist) has admitted he's a reluctant citizen of, and has only recently and tepidly embraced.
Goldy revealed even more about how she felt about Legault's win later on Reddit, when she was asked how she felt about the Quebec election results.
Faith Goldy's Reddit AMA, question about what she thinks about the Quebec election -- is bonkers. pic.twitter.com/ny0ET6oaUM— Nora Loreto (@NoLore) October 4, 2018
"The nationalist underdogs are making their way to the TOP."
It's hard to read this as anything else other than unbridled support of Legault and his policies. Like Le Pen, she clearly sees him as someone who is positioned on the same ideological page as she is when it comes to anti-immigrant tribalism and protectionism. While I resent giving Le Pen and Goldy any publicity, it's vital to disclose their endorsements because it's deeply troubling.
If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas...
Do I believe Legault and his party's policy proposals to be on par with the exclusionary hate and discrimination that both Le Pen and Goldy preach and are known for?
Of course not.
Do I think that the CAQ riding the populist wave into power on the back of immigrants was motivated less by hate and suspicion and more with nabbing the popular vote and a government majority?
A resounding yes.
Do I recognize that a significant segment of the Quebec population is more motivated by their own contentious relationship with religion than they perhaps are by any specific form of Islamophobia or racism?
In theory, yes. But the pure intentions of someone peddling this kind of divisive rhetoric matter little to the person targeted, because they are the ones who will inevitably suffer the effects of the discourse. Because, once again, opening up that proverbial "ostentatious religious symbols" can of worms, despite the Parti Quebecois' ill-fated Quebec Charter of Values already having taught us how damaging for social harmony it can be, it's inevitable that immigrant bashers will latch on to you and further their own agenda and world view.
It ultimately doesn't matter what Legault's motives were and if they stem solely from a Machiavellian strategy to obtain political power. The end result will be the same. A platform to reduce immigration, to implement French-language tests and threaten those who fail with expulsion, and to bar police officers, judges, prison guards, and elementary and high-school teachers from wearing visible religious symbols from public jobs will embolden and legitimize racism and discrimination of religious minorities and penalize and marginalize innocent Quebecers.
It already has.
Quebec far-right group La Meute (The Wolf Pack), known for intimidating immigrants (and journalists reporting on their activities) have, in the past, admitted to being "inspired by Legault's campaign." And just recently, Facebook threads discussing the election results in Quebec unleashed a disturbing amount of Islamophobia and racism in the comments, with people boldly and openly rejoicing at now being able to enjoy "Christmas trees, Christmas, and pork", as if anyone had prevented them from doing so before.
The CAQ may have been quick to reject any association or connection with Marine Le Pen, communicating that the party has absolutely no ties with Rassemblement National in France, but at no time did they explain why they are disassociating with them. Partly because it's hard to do. In fact, much of the doubling down on immigration Legault has done during the campaign is in accordance with Le Pen's talk. While her tweet is undoubtedly a strategic move to push her own agenda, it is nonetheless no surprise that she feels a kinship with him and sees them as being on the same side of this issue. Legault can protest all he wants, but if far-right nationalists at home and abroad are endorsing your immigration policies, perhaps it's time to reassess them.
The inevitable results of this kind of divisive talk
Legault made it clear during his first press conference as premier-designate that he is moving forward with his plan to ban religious symbols in public positions of authority. Although the Liberals' religious neutrality law is already the subject of a constitutional challenge and despite the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protecting religious freedom, Legault expressed no qualms about possibly invoking the notwithstanding clause in order to move the ban forward. The ban that would also affect people currently occupying these professions who wear hijabs and kippahs. In return, Legault has promised to "relocate" these professionals and provide them with "jobs in offices for people who want to keep wearing a religious sign." Apparently, out of sight and out of reach of impressionable people they could possibly offend or proselytize. Supporting such measures is unconscionable.
Aside from Legault (and those who support his religious symbol ban) not fundamentally understanding religious tolerance, respect of individual rights, and the concept of secularism, which is primarily about the state's religious neutrality, I'm so tired of once again watching a bunch of (overwhelmingly white, Catholic) people debate political secularism under a giant cross in the Quebec National Assembly. A cross, by the way, that CAQ spokesperson Simon Jolin-Barrette just confirmed will remain in the National Assembly, because it's part of "Quebec's heritage." So, separation of religion and state, but only "other" religions. Sounds like the makings of a secular, religiously neutral state to me!
As Emmett Macfarlane, University of Waterloo political science professor and constitutional law expert, has stated on Twitter, "the repeated proposals in Quebec to ban religious clothing isn't secularism, but a perversion of secularism. It's the opposite of 'state neutrality in religion', the *imposition* of anti-religion." This is extremely astute, considering how contentious Quebec's relationship to the church has been ever since the Quiet Revolution, leading to many taking an anti-religion stance that is almost just as dogmatic and inflexible as religion can be. Even those who sincerely believe that removing religious symbols from people in positions of authority is beneficial to everyone simply do not understand what it feels like to be targeted for something so personal and so integral to who you are, and how it feels like a rejection of a world you're supposed to be integrally and wholly part of. It's the perfect example of how the tyranny of the majority can and does place its own interests and own discomfort at difference (in this case, it's own discomfort with religion) at the expense of minorities.
Whether or not the CAQ implements its regressive agenda regarding immigrants and religious symbols in public positions of authority is irrelevant at this point. Much ink will be spilled in the weeks and months to come on the legality of such promises, and what power Legault actually has to move forward with something like this without causing a constitutional crisis, thanks to his promise (threat) to enact the notwithstanding clause to push forward his agenda. Much ink will (and deserves to be spilled) on how policies like these can't possibly be anything other than destructive for social cohesion and terribly counter-productive for social harmony and immigrant integration.
What is relevant and what must move to the forefront of any conversation and debate over the CAQ's intents is that it's ultimately inconsequential whether or not Legault succeeds in achieving what he has promised. Of course, implementing such a policy would have real-life dire consequences for the people affected. Pundits waving away worried people, stating that Legault ultimately has no legal power to do any of these things, in an attempt to appease and console, are missing the bigger picture. The damage will have been done already.
His proposals will have already succeeded in creating and perpetuating an atmosphere of fear, division, suspicion, and yes, even violence against immigrants. While Legault is busy proposing his version of a half-baked secularism to appease those who fear the different and attempting to restrict immigration amid labour shortages, he is perpetuating the image of dangerous, unaccommodating, inflexible immigrants, visible and religious minorities who are threatening the French language and culture and who are somehow incompatible with the views and values of most Quebecers. He has become complicit in "othering" immigrants who do not look or pray like the majority, and, consequentially, has contributed to marginalizing them.
It is the exact opposite of the successful immigration integration he boasts he will focus on because you simply don't successfully integrate people when you marginalize them. It's also in line with the immigrant scapegoating that far-right nationalists are famous for, so it's not surprising that they're cozying up to him. He better get used to it as long as he insists on moving forward with a platform that inevitably positions religious diversity as incompatible with co-existence and professional neutrality.