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Vicky Mochama: The voice of Metro News.

Racism of Bill 62 is not just Quebec's problem: Mochama

While the Trump administration repeatedly falters in its attempted ban on Muslims, Canada has achieved a landmark piece of hatred.

For over a decade now, Muslim women have borne the brunt of racist antipathy by the electorate and by their elected representatives, writes Vicky Mochama.

FRED ERNST / AP

For over a decade now, Muslim women have borne the brunt of racist antipathy by the electorate and by their elected representatives, writes Vicky Mochama.

We need to talk about Quebec. Quebec's problems are unique on their own but they speak to a problem all of Canada has to face.

On Wednesday, the province passed legislation that requires residents to uncover their faces in order to receive government services. If you want, you can claim this law is "for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety" as Premier Phillip Couillard does. You can tilt your head sideways, provided you're not wearing a niqab or a bandana while boarding a bus, and pretend it is about "religious neutrality," as the language of the law suggests. You could even mumble things about "secular society" as so many do.

None of this is true. The use of race-neutral language does not mean racism isn't present. Bill 62 enshrines gendered Islamophobia, a specific form of hate and discrimination towards Muslim women. It is one that has gone viral.

For over a decade now, Muslim women have borne the brunt of racist antipathy by the electorate and by their elected representatives. In 2004, France banned all religious symbols from public schools. Since then, lawmakers in Belgium, Switzerland, Austria and England have toyed with or enacted legislation that bans the burka and/or the niqab.

Canada too has loudly and publicly targeted Muslim women. A good portion of the 2015 federal election was devoted to whether Muslim women can be veiled during citizenship ceremonies and if we should have a hotline for "barbaric cultural practices," which, it was claimed, would protect women. Losing that election has not stopped the party from returning to this point.

A few Conservative leadership candidates ran on elements of gendered Islamophobia. They lost, but Islamophobia may have won the day. After all, the Conservative party's new campaign chair was a director at the nativist and racist website, Rebel Media.

A national trend towards Islamophobia has found public expression in Quebec. The Values Charter of the former PQ government, it seems, cast too wide a net in targeting all religious symbols in public life. The faux-neutrality and the specifity of this law are simply lessons learned. It's not just the federal Conservative party; after all, a Liberal government proposed and passed this law. Bigotry can be bipartisan.

Canada imagines itself superior to the United States or Europe. It is not. Indeed, Quebec is the first major jurisdiction in North America to ban face coverings. In so doing, it has made life harder and less safe for all Muslim women, not just the few who wear face coverings. While the Trump administration repeatedly falters in its attempted ban on Muslims, Canada has achieved a landmark piece of hatred.

The poison is already in our politics. The question is how much we will continue to stomach.

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