Mansplainer #6: The Racialized and Gendered Impact of Quebec’s Proposed Charter of Secularism

So it’s taken engaging in a lot of dialogue on the subject Quebec’s proposed Charter of Secularism to word this cogently.

The charter is racist, and I’ll give you a deeper analysis of why that is. BUT I am seeing an unhealthy trend of Anglophones co-opting the threat of oppression to religious minorities and using it as a platform to espouse bigotry towards Francophones.


More bigotry isn’t going to solve bigotry. Religious minorities need your solidarity, not your hypocrisy.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I think I can move on and address more than just my frustration with the Anglophone rhetoric. It’s been a really stressful time for myself and some of my friends in Quebec, and I can only imagine the stress that devoutly religious people are under right now. When we’re so used to major issues being split into two camps of discussion, being caught between two groups that are yelling at each other who are both wrong can make you want to throw up.


There is a popular misconception that the Charter is designed with the intent of oppressing religious minorities. It is not. While there is a rampant thread of xenophobia and ethnic nationalism in Quebec, the goal of the Charter is not in any way designed to preserve the whiteness of the Quebec population. This is what makes it a perfect case study in intent vs. impact.

The bottom line, and what makes this so frustrating, is we all want the same thing. The PQ have their eye on an egalitarian society. They want to ensure that women are treated fairly, without prejudice, and have equal employment opportunities. But they are going about it, decidedly, the wrong way.

Quebec has a rich and complicated history of religious oppression. It is undeniable that the Catholic Church in Quebec was a strong force of oppression. Anyone who’s read about le Grand Noirceur and the Quiet Revolution (or has lived through it, or talked to people who’ve lived through it) can tell you about this. It was serious, and it was bad. Culturally, it has had a lingering effect where many (not all) Quebecers, as a result, view religion in all forms as a form of oppression. When looking at a woman in a hijab, rather than seeing a woman who believes in modesty and is proudly displaying a symbol of their faith, they see a woman who is bound by the shackles of religious oppression. (Before getting side tracked, this viewpoint is hardly exclusive to Quebec or Francophones)

Now, whether or not you view religious icons this way is besides the point. The PQ have set about an attempt to “liberate” people from their religious oppression not by appealing to them with alleged modernity or promoting the supposed freedoms alloted by secularism, but by placing them in a position where they are forced to chose between their job and their religion. It is a choice that is damaging whichever way they chose. If you stand by your religion, as most would, then they lose solid economic standing. If they give up their religion, they are succumbing to cultural genocide.

Yes. I used the “g” word. This is a big deal. And Quebec has a history of genocide. This is not fundamentally different from putting First Nations kids in residential schools. It is a paternalistic approach to something perceived as backwards or archaic, and it is forced modernization. It is wrong, unethical, and cultural genocide. I can assure you that the intentions of many who planned the residential school system were profoundly benevolent. After all, was it not a goal to save these poor native kids from themselves and from their backwards culture? This is exactly what the Charter is attempting to do with religious minorities.

Now, is it racist? Yes. But let’s clarify. The intent is not racism. Nobody is setting out and saying “let’s oppress brown people”. But the end result is distinctly racialized.

So let’s expand on what levels that is. Race is a social construct. It exists only in the abstract sense and we define race as what we want it to mean along cultural, rather than genetic, boundaries. Whiteness is fluid. One can argue that it’s racist because when we deem one culture to be “other” we are denying them whiteness. This is a strong argument, and one that we can see time and time again throughout North American and European history. When did the Irish or the Italians become white? They weren’t always, but now they are. This year, I heard the term “white hispanic” used for the first time. When somebody acts “white” or adopts a perceived white culture, we tend to identify them as white. In this regard, targeting religious minorities can be seen as racist.

BUT that argument isn’t good enough for a lot of people. So there’s a simpler one.

We know the intent isn’t racist. And we know that intentions have little to do with impact. So let’s look at the impact.

We have a charter that is specifically targeting religion. Presuming religion is not race, who will be effected by this? Christians will have to wear smaller crosses? That’s not a big deal. Christians don’t even HAVE to wear crosses. Jews need to take off their yamulkes? Ok. Now we’re getting somewhere. Jews aren’t white enough for the white supremacists, so there’s a strong case for a racialized impact already. Who else? Sikh men and Muslim women? They are the ones who will be affected the most. In this regard, a law that targets religion, as a direct result, disproportionately effects brown people. This makes it racist. The vast majority of people who will be affected by this charter are not white.

Is the goal to target not-white people? Nope. But that doesn’t matter because the end result is that it targets not-white people.

Now let’s expand upon the gender equation. You want to bridge the gender wage gap? Public sector jobs are a good way of doing that. Working conditions are generally favourable as are salaries. Cutting off access to these jobs to Muslim women will only drive them into worse jobs or unemployment, and will reduce gender equality rather than increasing it. Denying a woman the right to wear a hijab is just as bad as enforcing that she must wear one. True liberation can only be achieved by affording the choice. The state can not claim to know what’s best for Muslim women better than Muslim women can. To do so is paternalistic, dangerous, and oppressive.

But please remember that it is not the intention of the PQ to oppress religious minorities. They are exhibiting strong symptoms of the typical white saviour complex. So if you want to call them out on racism and sexism (and please do), do so in a manner that appeals to the common goal of an equal and liberated Quebec.

Because after all, we all want the same thing.


3 responses to “Mansplainer #6: The Racialized and Gendered Impact of Quebec’s Proposed Charter of Secularism

  1. Hmm – while I suspect you’re right, especially at a meta-political level, there is another thread at work here.

    The last few electoral cycles out in the hinterlands have been marked by a deep nativism. Montreal’s politics in the last election were dominated by the Commission, by the student fees issue and so forth. Outside there’s been a whole lot of “Quebec for Quebecois” rhetoric floating about and about how “Quebec is a catholic nation” and so forth.

    So this proposal has both a technocratic element and some really base populism involved. The unkind might suggest that the technocratic element is aimed at the Montreal political market, and the other to the rural hinterlands. Considering the ongoing and passive aggressive attempts to erase anglophone cultural existence in Quebec (again, outside of Montreal), I can’t help but wonder what the wider agenda is.

    • From a strategic standpoint, I think it’s pretty clear that the PQ is wagging the dog. They new this would be controversial and acted on it with the intent of distracting us from economic policy, environmentalism, health care, education, and corruption. They have focussed the future electoral question on identity politics, because that is what they are good at.

  2. You say Sikh men and Muslim women and in that you are incorrect, the Turban is not restricted to men only and is perfectly acceptable for women to wear it. The fact they do nothing to do with the religion but everything to do with societal norms.

    And further more you say it is not the intent of the PQ to oppress religious minorities but frankly that’s just your opinion and not the statement of fact you present it as.

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