OTTAWA - The floundering Bloc Quebecois couldn't wait to join in the campaign against an "unreasonable accommodation" for visible minorities. They rushed forward a bill this week to block Muslim women from voting behind their burkas.
Never mind that the ruling Conservatives last week proclaimed their intent-to-legislate on this contrived controversy or that Muslim women already comply with face-revealing requirements to obtain a driver's licence or passport, the risk of a covered female face in a ballot booth was so horrifically galling, two federal parties raced to put their name on its prohibition. (Note to the million rural residents in Canada now ineligible to vote because they don't have a street address: Hang in there. Your government will help you after fixing this farcical threat.)
Given the various actions of separatist forces this month with a surprising assist from the provincial Liberals, the only face that needs to be uncovered is that of thinly veiled racism now raging in Quebec politics.
In the scramble for a purified and cleansed Quebec identity, various politicians are proposing or mulling over a shocking series of democratic limitations on anglophones or "foreign nationals," including newcomers from the other nine provinces.
The right to run for office, vote in any election, even pick a neighbourhood to live in would be limited by a person's French-speaking prowess, if assorted proposals of highly questionable constitutionality come to pass.
The Bloc has been kicking up a daily fuss in the House of Commons this week, demanding that provincial French-language handcuffs be applied to all federal employees, lest the few workers now exempt from Bill 101 utter a few words of illegal English in the process of earning an Ottawa-issued paycheque.
That line of attack was so bizarre, even lightweight Cabinet minister Josee Verner sounded uncharacteristically forceful in denigrating the Bloc for taking 17 years to raise objections to a 30-year-old language situation.
The hullabaloo continued with a Parti Quebecois bill filed in the National Assembly by leader Pauline Marois, proposing a Quebec citizenship that would require French language testing for future election candidates. That went too far even for former PQ leader Bernard Landry, no stranger to ethnic-bashing himself, but it was given the okeedokee from Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe.
Even while that bill was being ridiculed by federalists in Quebec, the PQ language critic was musing on an open-line radio show that anglophones in Montreal might lose the right to vote if Quebec became sovereign. To be fair, he did beat a slight backtrack in the angry aftermath.
Sadly, it's not just a separatist purge of linguistic impurity that should be giving civil rights advocates the shivers. Current Immigration Minister Yolande James, who lives in Montreal, was caught in a memo proposing immigrants be forced to "live their Quebec values concretely" through forcible confinement to francophone communities. After a few years of French-only isolation in Jonquiere, she figures, the internment would "awaken them to the realities, the language and the ways of Quebec."
I wish I were making this up. Alas, no.
All this is playing against the soundtrack of the "reasonable accommodation" hearings of the Cultural Differences Commission, where witnesses sound increasingly unreasonable in accommodating anti-immigrant sentiment.
The drift is impossible to miss: Non-francophones are not wanted or welcome and may, if Quebec ever achieves sovereign status, be denied taken-for-granted Canadian freedoms of voting, working, speaking and living according to their desires. And you thought Afghanistan had trouble with the democratic concept.
Imagine, if you can, Albertans engaging in such aggressive cultural protectionism -- rolling out special oilpatch citizenship and demanding all job-seekers live, speak and limit their religious practices according to standards backed by a skill-testing question on Ian Tyson music.
There'd be coast-to-coast condemnation, a frenzy of national outrage against knuckle-dragging rednecks who apparently married inside their immediate family a tad too often to accept worldly cultures.
The studied silence from the federal government as Quebec turns increasingly and inwardly xenophobic has been unsettling. Clearly they don't want to be seen badmouthing the Quebecois as they struggle to define their newly recognized "nation" as an unjust francophone society built on ethnic suspicion and cultural intolerance.
But the emotions, opinions and party positions dominating political discourse in Quebec smack of a class-divided racism that should not be tolerated-- in either official language.