Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Irony Du Jour: Hearing on Reasonable Accommodation is Neither

I meant to rant about this earlier in the day but a tweet reminded me: any effort to think about reasonable accommodation in Quebec is bound to cause more problems than not.  The Quebec National Assembly (that would be the provincial legislature) is having a hearing on a new bill to deal with that menace to society: the niqab.  The story:
The four Sikhs had been invited to appear before a legislative committee debating a bill that deals with the reasonable accommodation of religious minorities. But the group never got through the metal detectors at the entrance of the National Assembly building as security agents ruled the kirpans, or ceremonial daggers, they carried were a potential weapon.
Yep, they were invited and then turned away.  The Canadian courts have ruled that the kirpans are not a weapon and can be carried in the Parliament.
“It’s a bit ironic. We were here to speak on the issue of accommodation and we weren’t accommodated,” said the group’s legal counsel, Balpreet Singh. “An accommodation should be able to be made. An accommodation exists at the Parliament of Canada. An accommodation exists at the Supreme Court of Canada and legislatures across Canada. I don’t think it should be a problem here in Quebec.”
Um, he must not be from here.  Some folks in Quebec embrace any opportunity to assert that Canada's Supreme Court does not matter here.  And to do that while offending a minority--double bonus!

The hearings were focused on banning the covering of a woman's face while she is receiving various government services.  The funny thing is that the Sikhs prohibit exactly this kind of face covering, but wanted to prevent a precedent for restrictions against religious practices.  Not sure why they would see that as a risk.  Oh, that's right. 

The key quote from the Parti Quebecois spokesperson:
"Religious freedom exists but there are other values. For instance, multiculturalism is not a Quebec value. It may be a Canadian one but it is not a Quebec one,” she said.
And they wonder why folks do not want to live in the paradise of a free and independent Quebec?  Nationalism is more important than tolerance.  Got it.  Why such a strong reaction?  Because the niqab was been blown into a huge threat and impediment to government service, when very few women wear it.  

How has the Canadian court ruled on kirpans?  Reasonably and accommodating.  Schools can restrict students--they can carry the kirpans but only if they are kirpan was "safely sealed in a sheath and placed in a secure envelope strapped to the shoulder." Not that hard to come up with solutions if one is looking for them.  Pretty easy not to see them if being reasonable and being accommodating is not in your interest. 

Oh, and the really ironic part is now the Bloc Quebecois (the separatist party that runs for seats in the Canadian Parliament) is pushing for less accommodation at the national level, even though there are Sikhs sitting in the chamber as members of Parliament. 

I believe there is a French phrase that is perfect here: "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"
the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

Very interesting commentary. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on forcing marriage commissioners to perform same-sex weddings:

It seems to me that the same principle you've defended here, respect for religious customs and freedoms, should prevail and that marriage commissioners should be allowed to refuse. Furthermore, the compromise struck, allowing commissioners to refuse while referring same-sex couples to other commissioners, seemed very reasonable and very principled.