An analysis of Canada’s 2011 census suggests that Quebec’s Jewish population had not dropped below the 90,000 threshold, a stat that was a concern for Quebec’s Jewish community.
Quebec’s latest law mirrors France’s own secularist stance that came under fire in 2010 for banning certain facial coverings, like the Muslim niqāb, in public. As other critics have pointed out, Christianity is largely devoid of strict visual displays like the yarmulke and Sikh turbans, so these types of policies are difficult to not read as a bureaucratic form of religious prejudice.
According to Minister Bernard Drainville, for example, the large crosses throughout Montreal will be spared "in the name of history, in the name of heritage," emphasizing a Christian bias in even the government’s approach to their own history.
Religious minorities, including the large English-speaking Jewish population in Montreal, have endured decades of these types of policies.
As JTA reporter Ron Csillag says, the Jewish community is Quebec "has endured not only laws mandating French only on signs and in the workplace, but a general distress in the face of what the late Montreal author Mordecai Richler called French Quebec’s 'tribalism.'"
This tribalism has been met with similar reactions within the Jewish community, which itself is increasingly divided within the province. Despite the population steadily declining since 1971, one Montrealer says "there’s a lack of outreach between the two (Sephardic and Ashkenazi) communities."
But this trend seems to be changing.
Reactions to Quebec’s arguably unconstitutional but deeply entrenched xenophobia has caused the Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and even Christian communities to band together in protest.
Thousands have taken to the streets in protest of the ban in the hopes of stopping these discriminatory practices. Coupled with the plateauing Jewish population, there appears to be hope for communities that are willing to fight for their place in a truly multiethnic population and culture.
Canadian Jewish lawmaker Irwin Cotler believes the proposed ban is unlikely to be enacted in its current form, perhaps a bit of hope for a cultural shift in Quebec.
Reprinted with permission from Shalom Life