In 2006, I had my first experience running for office under the banner of the Bloc Québécois, which had shown a commitment to fighting racism and discrimination and supported the Chinese community in demanding redress for the head tax.
Afterward, I participated with trust and camaraderie in a working committee to produce an official paper from the Bloc for the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation of cultural minorities in Quebec. In the 2007 paper, called Bâtir le Québec Ensemble (Building Quebec together), the Bloc opted for a more open form of laïcité (a system of enforced secularism) and aspired towards a modern and progressive Quebec; in other words, the Bloc recognized that a modern secular state required the institutions, not the citizens, to be secular.
To evaluate requests for accommodation, the Bloc added state laïcité and gender equality to the criteria for respecting fundamental rights, in addition to a test of integration (whether an accommodation facilitated integration). The only recommendations the Bloc made about enforcing state neutrality with religious employees focused on jobs requiring neutrality, such as judges and police, and religious symbols that violated hygiene, health, or safety rules.
Unfortunately, these progressive positions, which marked the maturity of a nation, were set back hundreds of years by the Parti Québécois’ proposed Charter of Values. Worse, when Maria Mourani (at the time the only Bloc MP who was a woman and an ethnic minority) criticized this project based on the Bloc’s own position on laïcité, she was thrown out of the party.
More recently, during the election campaign, the Bloc has sought to attract votes by courting the lowest common denominator and appealing to ethnic nationalism — a shameful move. In joining the Conservatives to exploit the most insidious forms of Islamophobia, the Bloc has denounced the two women in the country who claimed their right to wear the niqab at their Canadian citizenship ceremony.
Since when do sovereigntists concern themselves with how people dress at citizenship ceremonies? The Bloc’s current position fails every test set out by the party for the Bouchard-Taylor Commission.
Does allowing the niqab at a Canadian citizenship ceremony facilitate integration? Of course. The first consequence of refusing the right to wear the niqab means these women can’t become citizens. If we apply the gender equality test, these women are claiming the right to control their own bodies, while insisting that the state, their husbands, and their families cannot decide what they should wear.
The Bloc’s electoral, populist and racist U-turn has thrown us under the bus — the party has sacrificed integrity, intelligence, maturity, a commitment to social justice, an openness of spirit and progressiveness at the expense of all of us. The party no longer has the legitimacy to lead me to my independent country.
May Chiu was the Bloc Québécois candidate for the Lasalle-Émard riding in the 2006 election.
This article originally appeared in the French edition of Ricochet and has been translated.