Thursday 29 August 2013

Oh tempora, oh Mordecai: What next Quebec, Mme. Marois telling us what we can wear?

Sometimes “the law is a ass” Mr. Bumble said, and it looks like the debate on Quebec’s proposed charter of “values”—or lack thereof—is one of those times.

Despite the symbolic blood-letting of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, which basically found there was no “reasonable accommodation” crisis, Quebec still harbours too many who are, as some Western Canadians used to put it back in the day, referring to French on their cornflake boxes, sick of having Islamic headscarves “shoved down their throats.”

Bev does Bubby. Is this head covering dangerous? Only the PQ knows...

In Montreal, where I thought we were famous for our laissez faire attitude toward issues that knotted knickers elsewhere in North America--like abortion, daycare, gay sex and marriage (“if you don’t like it, don’t do it, but keep your nose the hell out of my business”)—I predict we’ll soon have a new branch of the civil service analogous to the beloved Office québécois de la langue française Tongue Troopers: the Headscarf Haranguers. Or, perhaps, the Kippah Killjoys.

They’ll certainly have their work cut out for them. Let’s try and get our heads around how this would work.

Consider that most anodyne of textiles, the simple kerchief. Imagine a teacher at a public school, or a Centre de santé et des services sociaux receptionist. If she tucks her hair into a turban as a fashion statement, or dons a headscarf to keep her hairdo safe from the rain, or because she’s having a bad hair day, no problemo. Ditto for covering a pate denuded by cancer chemotherapy. But if she put on that same headscarf out of Islamic modesty, das ist verboten. And if she’s an Orthodox Jewish woman, covering her hair out of Orthodox Jewish modesty? Verboten again, I guess, though she’d look exactly the same as the cancer patient.

The true bureaucrat requires an objective way to differentiate between Jewish women, Muslim women, and women undergoing chemotherapy. How to accomplish this? May I suggest cancer patients be issued big yellow Cs to pin on their breast pockets? Or perhaps the Muslims and Jews could be issued large yellow Ms and Js, despite the optics. Clearly, issuing yellow crescents or stars of David would be unacceptable on religious symbol grounds; besides, the latter has clearly been done before (done to death before, in fact). And here in the ever-distinct society of Quebec, we value, above all, our cultural uniqueness.

But if you think that headscarves are complicated, what about wigs? Apparently, it has so far escaped the notice of the Headscarf Haranguers that sometimes a wig isn’t simply a wig. Most men who wear toupees do so for cosmetic/vanity reasons. Wearing a toupee to appear more sexually attractive will certainly sit well with the Headscarf Haranguers, but many Orthodox Jewish women wear wigs out of religion-based notions of propriety, which will not. Some wear wigs for reasons such as, again, chemotherapy, medical conditions like alopecia, or because, sometimes, unfortunately, their hair looks like crap. How are we—or, more importantly, the Headscarf Haranguers--to tell the difference? I could again suggest a yellow letter--B (for baldness), C (for cancer), or V (for vanity), but I’m sure Mme. Marois will see the value of a parliamentary commission to examine in closer detail acceptable reasons for wig wearing in this brave new Quebec. Otherwise men topped by toupees may be evaluated differently from women wearing wigs. Which would be sexist and against their human rights. Not to mention Quebec values.

But enough of wigs, and let’s leave beards—in fact, all other body hair--for another day.

Confining ourselves to clothing, let’s consider, for a moment, the zucchetto. This is not an Italian pastry but a skull cap worn by Catholic and Anglican clerics, and of the same sartorial ilk as the kippah. Clearly, following enactment of the Quebec charter of “values,” men like Pope Francis or Bishop Tutu would no longer be welcome to address the National Assembly in full religious regalia. No doubt, they’d be required to wear business suits, like engineering company executives, Canadian senators, or political bag men. This probably wouldn’t be a problem because I doubt Pope Francis or Bishop Tutu would be interested in addressing Quebec’s National Assembly in the event the charter of “values”—as currently bruited—was actually enacted.

Finally, if my doctor wore a kippah while at work, he’d be breaking the law. But if he covered it with a Yankees cap, he’d be okay. Unless the Marois government decided that only Expos caps were permissible. By Dickens, when the law can so easily be made “a ass,” I wouldn’t put it past them.

A version of this article may be found at 
The Huffington Post Canada.

Beverly Akerman’s award winning story collection, The Meaning of Children is set largely in Montreal. She’s strangely pleased to believe she’s the only Canadian fiction writer ever to have sequenced her own DNA.