Many of the Journal de Montréal’s columnists have been falling over each other to denounce Doug Ford. Ontario’s 26th premier, you’ll recall, announced a couple weeks ago that he was cutting the province’s French-language services commissioner and shelving plans to build a francophone university. While the move came in for sharp criticism in pretty much all Quebec newspapers, the flurry of spit-inflected invective in the Frontenac Street tabloid was on a level all its own.
“Doug Ford’s vicious offensive” was nothing short of a “war on francophones,” decried Denise Bombardier. “Hypocrisy,” bellowed Joseph Facal. “An attack by the Orangemen,” roared Mathieu Bock-Côté, using a term for members of the anti-Catholic fraternal league birthed in Northern Ireland more than two centuries ago.
Richard Martineau denounced the “hate” of English Canada toward francophones, then suggested French-speakers in Ontario should move to Quebec where they can live comfortably among the majority.
My point here isn’t to disagree with my esteemed colleagues about the situation in Ontario. Ford’s move to jettison an institution key to the survival of a linguistic minority is odious. Nor is it my intention to point out how Ford, under intense political pressure, partly backed off the cuts within a week — laying waste to my colleagues’ collective argument that French-speakers outside Quebec’s borders are a voiceless and inconsequential rump.
Rather, it’s to point out how much of this province’s nationalist commentariat, so quick to champion the rights of one minority outside Quebec, seems no less quick to denigrate the rights of minorities living in this province. Specifically, those minorities who dare display their religion in public.
Wearing these symbols is crucial to their identity and an intrinsic part of their daily lives, much like language for francophones. It’s often also a form of religious practice. But unlike Franco-Ontarians, most religious minorities in Quebec have a higher unemployment rate than the population around them, making plans to create barriers to their employment all the more unjust.
Curiously, though, few Quebec nationalists have jumped to the defence of religious minorities in Quebec as they did for their French-speaking brethren in Ontario. Just the opposite; with few exceptions, Quebec’s loudest nationalist opinion makers have instead treated religious minorities as nothing short of a threat to the majority population.
Consider Bock-Côté’s contributions to the debate. By my count, the prolific columnist has denoted no fewer than 10 columns to the subject of the hijab in the last year alone. The hair-covering scarf worn by some Muslim women isn’t “a demonstration of personal spirituality” but “a symbol used by Islamists to mark their presence in the public space,” Bock-Côté wrote in April.
Ditto Richard Martineau, whose most famous contribution to the debate included the allegedly edgy decision to wear a burka on his television show. “The Islamic veil has become part of our culture … soon we won’t even notice it,” he wrote this year, as though this small piece of cloth was actually a very large trojan horse, full of Islamists.