Today it is reported that the federal government has introduced a law specifically directed at Islamic women.
Reported at canada.com, the law would allow Canadians "to hide their face before voting in a federal election for health reasons, but not because of their religion."
The customary wearing of a veil is associated, in Canada, with Muslim women. In that sense, a law is being introduced in Canada's House of Parliament, that is specifically aimed at a cultural minority and a group of minority women in particular.
It is difficult to argue that the intent is not racist. But it is also politically inspired.
According to the report, Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Minister, Lawrence Cannon, said the law is intended to to "fix a loophole in the Canada Elections Act which caused controversy during federal byelections last month in Quebec." Let's keep that in mind.
The minister was quoted as saying that "I’ve been told, for instance, in one poll in St-Hyacinthe (east of Montreal), some people came in there with masks on, they came in with veils, other people came in with other ridiculous attire.”
So, to be clear, the Conservative Party is introducing a law aimed at a religious minority to remedy not any wrong doing or specific violations of the election act involving religious dress, but, rather, to remedy anecdotal stories of people voting while covering their faces with non-religious garb. In fact, is there any evidence at all of an Islamic person, in traditional dress, violating Canada's election laws? Not according to any publicly available information.
Not only is evidence of a problem lacking, but the law applies to a very small number of people. According to another canada.com story, "only a small minority of Muslim women wear the niqab -- roughly seven out of Quebec's 150,000 Muslims." SEVEN!!!
All of this fuss and a law to deal with seven people.
If it strikes you that there is more to this than meets the eye, you are probably right. Let's return to the controversy cited above by Cannon.
To start, to win a majority government, Harper and the Conservatives must pick up seats in Quebec. But the war in Afghanistan has been unpopular in Quebec and Quebeckers were less supportive of Harper's openly racist, anti-Arab, pro-Israeli position with regard to the Lebanon war. What Harper needed for Quebec was a wedge issue. And not just a wedge issue but a racist wedge issue to drive apart Quebeckers and Muslim immigrants that could in turn help solidify Quebeckers behind the war in Afghanistan and develop sympathy with Harper's antipathy for Arab Muslims.
Along came Andre Drouin and Hérouxville.
Drouin, an elected town councilor, introduced an "immigrant code". "In January, the tiny municipality (pop. 1,300) made international headlines by adopting a "code of life" that set out ground-rules for immigrants who might want to settle there. Targeting fundamentalist Muslims in particular, those rules included no public stonings or burnings, and no female circumcision," according to a National Post story.
The result was just the wedge Harper was looking for. Quebec society is dividing along racist, and xenophobic lines. A Globe and Mail report details the racist attitudes bubbling to the surface in Quebec. And it doesn't stop at Islam. Excerpted from the article:
Jacques Deschesnes complained about a relative treated at a Jewish hospital who couldn't mix milk and meat when she ate lunch.
Andréa Richard had fears for the future, warning of an Islamic onslaught.
"Would you like to see your grandchildren become Muslims? Would you like to see your granddaughters wear the veil?" she told the commission's co-chairs, academics Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor.
It was in the wake of all of this that the issue of those seven Muslim women wearing a veil while casting a ballot came to the fore. And when it did and the chief election officer initially ruled correctly and thoughtfully as he should, Harper came storming into the debate solidly on the side of the racists.
"Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he "profoundly disagrees" with a recent decision by Elections Canada to allow Muslim women to vote with their faces covered by burkas or niqabs," according to a CBC story headlined "Harper slams Elections Canada ruling on veils".
It is worth noting that Harper found time during the APEC summit in South East Asia to comment on an election brouhaha in Quebec.
But will Harper's racist gamble pay off? It just might. In a tight race for votes against the Conservatives the Bloc seems ready to leap aboard the scapegoating bandwagon while the Liberals are fearful of doing anything lest the weakling Dion be seen as weak.
So far only the NDP seems prepared to stand on principal. But it is not enough.
If the Harper government is successful in using racism to win Quebec, it won't stop there. It is a show that will be taken on the road as another issue to divide Canadians and ride a wave of hatred and acrimony to a majority government.
[ 26 October 2007: Message edited by: Frustrated Mess ]