Quebec charter threatens us all

By: Maham Abedi

When I first started wearing a hijab almost two years ago, I had one reservation.

It wasn’t about the outfits in my closet I’d never get to wear again. It wasn’t about bearing the summer heat. It wasn’t even about never feeling the wind in my hair again. It was about the fear of discrimination.

I was afraid that once I started wearing a hijab, I would be just that and nothing more.  My hijab would be a mark of oppression and lack of education – neither of which is true. I was afraid that passersby would be uncomfortable sharing space with me.

When I walked onto my Mississauga Transit bus every morning I expected the driver to be rude to me. I expected people to not hire me. I was even ready to lose friends.

But none of those things happened. I wore a hijab because, for me, it felt like the right thing to do. And slowly, the fear drifted away too … until about a month ago.

Last month the proposal for Quebec’s Charter of Values was introduced, a ban on “covert and conspicuous” religious symbols like turbans, large crucifixes, kippas and hijabs.  Why? Because as Quebec’s Democratic Institutions Minister, Bernard Drainville, said in a YouTube video, “We all have a right to our beliefs. The state has no place interfering in the moral and religious beliefs of Quebecers.”

I was under the impression that the state not interfering meant not proposing laws banning religious symbols. So Drainville’s video not only managed to offend every bit of me in less than four minutes — it also left me baffled.

It’s had the same effect on Canadian politicians and residents. Most of us are asking, “What problem is this charter trying to solve?” We didn’t realize there was one, largely because there isn’t. It’s clear that Quebec’s minority government has ulterior political motives.

I could write about the politics of this issue for pages and pages, but my concerns hit closer to home.

I’m worried Quebec’s politically charged attack on religious symbols has opened up a debate that threatens the very essence of what it means to be Canadian. For me, being Canadian means being free and unafraid to be whoever I am.

I know my choice to wear a hijab is safe for now, but I can’t say it will be for long. Right now I can walk down the street without taunts and whispers, but I can’t say it will be the case in 10 years. This charter has opened a Pandora’s box for me and millions of Canadians who wear religious symbols.

Canada is my home, but hijab is my identity. Until now, these two parts of me lived together peacefully. It’s frightening that just a few kilometres east, for so many Canadians, that peace is being threatened.

The two-year anniversary of the day I first wore my hijab is approaching. But unlike last year, I’ll be a little less happy about my decision. Not because my hijab has done me wrong or oppressed me, but because my nation has.

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