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True or false: in Quebec, women and men have the same rights and this is inscribed in law?
The question is at best aspirational, and at worst a trick. It’s also a question the Quebec government plans to pose to potential immigrants before they can complete the process to immigrate here.
Last week, Quebecers finally got a glimpse at some of the questions from the Coalition Avenir Québec’s long-anticipated policy. The example questions they circulated demonstrate that the policy is less about identifying what our common values are, and more about what the CAQ thinks our values ought to be.
The first question is curious. Women don’t have the same rights as men in Quebec or anywhere in Canada. This can be seen in many measures, from rates of violence against women to the gender wage gap. The first part of the question is false, unless they want potential immigrants to answer with what should be true. The second part — as inscribed in law — is more true, but if the effect of gender discrimination makes men and women less equal, what is the point of this question?
On Le Canal Nouvelles, Haroun Bouazzi, spokesman with the organization Muslims and Arabs for a Secular Quebec, argued that the existence of the values test implies to Quebecers the threat to women’s rights or LGBTTQ+ rights comes from outside the province. The problem, of course, is these rights are under attack by Quebecers.
In the interview, Bouazzi says that maybe a values test, and commensurate education, is actually needed for everyone.
Especially, it would seem, at the National Assembly, where a member’s Halloween costume has created a crisis among the parties that strongly believe women must dress a certain way when they’re elected.
On Halloween, MNA Catherine Dorion posted a photo of herself sitting atop the Speaker of the National Assembly’s desk dressed as “a Member of (the) National Assembly.” Dorion has been criticized by journalists, pundits and other politicians for what she wears. Her clothes walk a fine line between what is permitted and not permitted by the National Assembly’s dress code. She often wears sweaters or T-shirts and is regularly criticized for wearing clothes that aren’t fancy enough.
Her Halloween costume adhered strictly to the National Assembly’s rules: her hair was curled, she was wearing a necklace, a blazer, a short skirt, translucent black pantyhose and high heels.
Many people applauded Dorion’s costume as high-level trolling. But predictably, others responded with vile misogyny toward Dorion’s choice of costume.
Xavier Camus, a philosopher and blogger who closely follows hate online, posted several comments from people mocking her and making vile comments about her. They were posted on Facebook to a partisan group for supporters of the governing party called “The Friends of the CAQ.”
On Dorion’s own Facebook page, amid the hundreds of overwhelmingly positive comments, there are a handful of people who disagree with her costume. Mostly women, they express their opposition without resorting to sexist tropes. But there are also comments made by men about her legs or her face, and how she should dress more often like that to please their desire to see a female politician rather as a sex symbol — or I imagine that’s their motivation.
On Tuesday, the Liberals called for the ethics commissioner to investigate Dorion’s stunt. On Thursday, she was denied entry to the Salon Bleu, where MNAs meet, for wearing clothes that were too informal: an orange sweatshirt she had previously worn without being reprimanded.
Women’s gender expression is aggressively policed across workplaces, such as bars and restaurants requiring women to wear skirts or heels, to large national corporations like Air Canada, which insists its female flight attendants wear make up — but not too much. “Make up should enhance a woman’s overall appearance,” its uniform guidebook says.
There’s no similar appearance requirement for male employees.
If women lawmakers are not able to do their jobs free from harassment over what they wear, what hope is there for everyone else? And how is an immigrant supposed to answer this question when gender discrimination is perpetuated by the same politicians claiming they will screen these biases out of Quebec?
Critics of the values test have said from the start the exercise does little more than invoke and stoke xenophobia. But the real issue isn’t newcomers at all. It’s Quebecers who engage in homophobia and racism regularly, who insult women or who pay them less for work. It’s politicians who quietly understand this values test is simply an exercise in using xenophobia to boost popularity, while at the same time openly perpetuating gender discrimination.
Bouazzi is right: what we really need right now is values education for all Quebecers that doesn’t ask trick questions, but instead starts confronting society’s hate head-on.