Unease over non-Christian religious symbols has led the Quebec government to set up a commission to tour the province to try to get a perspective on how Quebec should deal with growing cultural and religious diversity. This unease reflects the province’s distinctiveness as a French minority culture in an English country and continent, a distinctiveness which is felt by many to be under siege.
A recent survey conducted by the opinion research organization SOM found strong opposition to “accommodation,” with 70% agreeing with the decision to ban the hijab from soccer and 65% opposing children wearing it to school. In recent years, RCMP rules have been adjusted to allow a Sikh to enter the force wearing a turban, but 80% of Quebeckers don’t like the idea.
The rejection of such minority expressions of religious identity characterizes some elements of Quebec society much more than others. For example, 70% of French Quebeckers oppose the hijab in the schools, while only 42% of other Quebeckers do. As well, there is a sizeable generation gap. Among the 18 to 24 age group, 75% accept the hijab at school. The high overall rate of rejection is a consequence of Quebec’s aging population.
While the allergic reaction to “alien” religious symbols is strong, the acceptance of Catholic symbols, in this province with its largely empty Catholic churches, is equally strong. Seventy percent of respondents oppose removing the cross from the National Assembly (the province’s parliament) and over half are against eliminating the opening prayers at municipal council meetings. Mario Dumont, head of Action Démocratique, the official opposition in Quebec, whose anti-minority diatribes led to the establishment of the government’s “reasonable accommodation” commission, is right in tune with popular prejudices. He not only is opposed to the public manifestation of minority religious symbols: he also wants to maintain Catholic ones. “There is a desire among Quebeckers to preserve their identity,” he declared. The Catholic symbols are part of “what we are and of our history.”