In Quebec, kippahs are out, but swastikas are OK

There have been very few times I have been ashamed to be Canadian, but today is one of them.

The provincial government of Quebec is institutionalized its vision of a secular society and “state neutrality”. It has produced its own “Charter of Values” that prohibits all public servants from wearing religious symbols or dress while at work. For example, female Muslim teachers can no longer a hijab to work. Jewish men who work as public servants may no longer wear a kippah. This poster shows what is and is not acceptable in Quebec workplaces:


On the top row you can see the approved “non-ostentatious” symbols that recognize “Quebec heritage”, including a small cross or a discreet Star of David. So, Christian and Jewish symbols are OK, as long as they are not too obvious.

But clothing is out. Turbans, hijabs and kipphas all have to go.

Note the distinct lack of the swastika in the poster. The Quebec government might say those are OK, because they are not a religious symbol. The message seems pretty clear: Fanaticism might be tolerated, but showing that you believe in a non-human supreme being is not. Of course, the Quebec government has not explicitly said, “Yes, please wear a swastika to work”, but by not adding it to its list of “unacceptable symbols” the permission seems implicit, no?

This new “Charter of Values” has made international news and has Canadians up in arms. This CBC news article says that support for the Quebec government’s new policy is growing, however.

Journalists such as Steve Murray have parodied the new policy, suggesting that perhaps hockey jerseys should also be outlawed. After all, we would not want fans of the Montreal Canadiens offending those who believe strongly in the Toronto Maple Leafs. Can you imagine the riots that might break out at the local Tim Hortons if people went after one another for wearing a jersey from the wrong team? You might spill your double-double. (For my non-Canadian readers, that is Canadian-speak for a cup of coffee with two lumps of sugar and two helpings of cream).

Another, Canadian-born journalist, Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed offers a brilliant response to the Parti Quebecois in her Huffington Post Op/Ed.

What gets me is that this dress code does not seem to have been thought through. We have a national Charter of Rights and Freedoms that trumps (or should trump) what happens on a provincial level.

It’s not that I don’t think there should be a dress code at work. Safety and social decorum are two sensible reasons to have a dress code. People who work in an environment where the risk of injury might increase if your hair gets in the way, well, they should have to tie it back or tuck it under a cap, for example. That’s just  common sense.  Likewise, there’s no need for public servants to wear bathing suits, hot pants or pasties to work.  That sort of attire is more suited for work outside the public sector. That’s also common sense.

But banning religious symbols and particular pieces of clothing in the hopes of creating a secular society? Really? Didn’t the former Soviet Union try that and fail? Miserably?

As I mentioned earlier, people holds lots of beliefs that have nothing to do with religion… Those are still OK, though? You can believe in aliens or racial supremacy or child labor and that’s all OK?

Mind you… Quebec is the same  province that was able to pass a law banning businesses from posting any signage in English, in order to promote the French language. (Equally silly, in my humble opinion.) They seem to have carte blanche to do whatever they please and we’ll let them do it because, well… they’re Quebec.

Hopefully, Quebecers will remember that we still live in a democracy and they get to elect their leaders.

Practice tolerance


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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