The news of summer: once again, Quebec’s distinct

Sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Se moquer de ce qui nous dépasse, une manière (peu glorieuse) de sauver la face...

Ah, the dog days of summer headlines. “Corruption is a hardy perennial.” “Lost woman faces off with bear.” “First Nations fear land grab.” (That last one is so 16th century). Oh, and this beauty: “Female Mounties to be allowed to wear pants.” LOL (ask your grandchildren).
Seriously, it’s 2012: Mounties can wear turbans but they couldn’t (until now) wear pants?
Apparently not, if they were female. And no boots or spurs, either. Women in the Mounties were not allowed any of those as part of their formal uniform, the so-called Walking Out Order that they sport at official RCMP functions and ceremonies. Needless to say, male Mounties could. The women had to wear long blue skirts and black leather pumps.
In 2003, a female officer complained of discrimination over the wardrobe rule. Her complaint was twice denied, but now the Mounties are finally buckling, after the force’s external review committee said the grievance raises a reasonable question about the dress code.
The RCMP commissioner has yet to make a formal decision and the old rule still officially stands, but in practice female Mounties can now get the male gear of boots and spurs and pants if they make a request for it.
That’s the news. But there may be more to this reasonable accommodation than meets the tailor’s eye. It comes at a time when the RCMP faces several class-action and individual lawsuits by past and present female Mounties who say they’ve been discriminated against (for example, by being paid less than men) or sexually harassed.
The accommodation is the latest in a series of changes to the dress code that the RCMP has made over the years for minorities and women. In 1974, it “relaxed” the code to allow its first female officers to wear the traditional red serge with a skirt and heels. In 1990, after another change in policy, Malaysian-born Baltej Singh Dhillon became the first Sikh RCMP officer to be allowed to wear a turban on the job.
This week’s news of the latest accommodation came while, here in Quebec, the issue of how public servants should be allowed to dress — that is, whether they should be permitted to wear religious symbols like the cross or the kippah — was turned into an election-campaign issue. If Pauline Marois’s Parti Québécois comes to power, we’ll have a “charter of secularism” banning turbans behind the cash at the SAQ.
Actually, come to think of it, when was the last time you saw a Sikh cashier at the liquor store, or a hijab-wearing driving examiner? Quebec has a woeful record of hiring members of cultural minorities in the civil service, despite rising numbers of immigrants from North Africa and the rest of the developing world.
It’s kind of quaint, really, that the news on the federal scene is about pants and boots. It kind of puts our debate into perspective. We’re left with more pressing, if parochial, issues as summer winds down on the election trail.
Judging from the headlines, it’s going to be a long slog to Labour Day (sorry, Fête du travail). A sampling from the French press: “Une campagne menacée de dérapage.” “Le réseau de santé crie famine.” “BIXI ne route pas sur l’or.”
And a howler about brain research at McGill University: “Percée montréalaise sur le cerveau.” Ouch!
Sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

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