Living, Working, and Wasting Time in Southern Manitoba

Month: March 2015

Same old Federal Liberals

My flirtation with the Liberal Party of Canada is over. I was going to give them the benefit of the doubt. I thought that maybe things would be different. I thought maybe they had learned their lesson.

They have not. They are the same old Liberal Party that I couldn’t vote for in the past.

On paper, the Liberals have always been the party that seemed to most mirror my own outlook on things. The Canada that they purport to envision as a land of equal rights and equal opportunity is the same grand vision of Canada that I hold. The problem is, they never deliver. They always campaign one way and then govern another. You never know which way they are going to go. They have no conviction.

In my last two entries, here and here, I shared my doubts about the statements by Liberals Justin Trudeau and Marc Garneau, when they defended a person’s right to wear whatever they want. I had this strange feeling that when push comes to shove, they didn’t really mean it.

They don’t.

The proof, Bill C-309, the “Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act.”

From Wikipedia:

Bill C-309 is a private member’s bill, criminalising the actions of protesters who cover their faces during tumultuous demonstrations and introducing a five-year prison sentence for the offence introduced before the Canadian House of Commons in October 2011 during the 41st Parliament. On February 15, 2012, a 190-97 vote confirmed that the bill would enter a second reading and be sent to the House Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
The proposal was introduced in the context of the 2012 Quebec student protests, and the riots following the 2011 Stanley Cup championship in Vancouver. However, in both circumstances a vast majority present were not wearing masks.
On June 19, 2013, Bill C-309 became law, banning the wearing of masks during a riot or unlawful assembly, carrying a maximum 10-year prison sentence with a conviction of the offence. The Liberal and Conservative parties voted unanimously in favour of the legislation. The Bloc Quebecois, Green Party and NDP cast 96 votes against the bill.

The Liberals voted unanimously in favour of the legislation. They voted for a law that would allow for a 10 year prison sentence based upon what someone was wearing.

10 year prison sentence! For wearing a face covering!
The Liberal Party of Canada supports that!

Yes, so do the Conservatives, but they are not the ones who have spent the last week saying that they would defend a Canadian’s right to wear whatever they want on their face. Which way do you want it guys? You can’t say that one set of Canadians get to cover there faces anywhere and everywhere and then not allow the same right for everyone else. Think about it, anyone who claims to be wearing a face covering for religious reasons gets to go home, while all others face up to a 10 year prison sentence. This is not hypothetical, this is the law of the land.

All of this has been brought to the fore because the Conservatives have been pushing through their anti-terror bill, C-51. Those such as myself believe that the bill is just the Conservatives pandering to their base, enacting unneeded laws to combat a problem much smaller than they purport it to be. The new bill tramples individual liberties in the name of battling terrorism. Most law experts from various universities across Canada believe the bill is too far reaching, and like other Conservative bills of late, runs amuck of the Charter. The Liberals have also said such things. They believe the bill is flawed. The bill is most likely what caused them to go on their latest offensive about the culture of fear that they say the Prime Minister is creating.

They’re also going to vote for it. You don’t vote for something you’re against… unless you’re afraid of losing votes. Well, they’ve lost mine.

They do not stick to their convictions.

So now, do I choose the NDP or the Greens?

Still contemplating what’s reasonable…

For some background, one should read my previous post, “What’s Reasonable?”

Let me be clear, I do not think that someone should be required to remove a hijab in a court room, in a citizenship ceremony, or elsewhere in Canada. Like my spouse has said, “If you can see someone’s face, what the hell difference does it make?” And really, that was the point of my previous post, that what someone wears on their head should be their own business if it is not interfering with the rights of others. My further point is that we should not be making that distinction on religious grounds. If someone wants to wear a hat or any other secular head covering in any of those same places, then they should be allowed to.

Tom Mulcair of the NDPAs this week has went on, this debate has exploded into the news, egged on by both the Prime Minister and Justin Trudeau, aided and abetted by Tom Mulcair. The issue this week is more to do with the niqab, a full face covering with only the eyes visible, as opposed to the hijab which leaves the full face visible. The rhetoric has been turned up quite a bit.

Now, the prime minister has framed this argument as being about womens’ rights. It would be a laudable argument if I thought for one moment that the Conservatives were actually pursuing the issue for womens’ rights. I have a hard time believing it. When the PM says that the niqab comes from a place that is anti-woman, he is not telling an untruth. It is a patriarchal practice, not actually required by Islam, that limits the way that a woman can dress. Yes, I am aware that some women will choose to wear the Niqab, but my gut tells me that the majority wearing it have been coerced somehow into making that “choice”. I really do not know where to stand on this one, while I respect someone’s right to choose, I would like to know that they are actually getting to choose. If there is a threat, implied or real, in their community if they do not wear the garment, then it is not a real choice. Banning the niqab seems extreme, but I have to wonder sometimes if there is an argument to me made.

As for citizenship ceremonies, it has been pointed out that identity is confirmed when completing required documentation, so perhaps if one is wearing the niqab of their own free will, then that should be the end of it; that is what the Federal Court has said.

But this is where I start to have problems with our left-of-centre politicians. At this point in my life, I lean to the left. Truth be told, I’m probably quite left on some issues. I previously stated, I’m also an atheist. I wholeheartedly agree with Trudeau, Mulcair, and even Marc Garneau, who tweeted earlier this week.

Marc Garneau, LiberalNow, I’m quite sure that he was talking about the right of a woman to wear whatever she pleases. Considering the way that the week has gone, it would not be a bad presumption. This is where I question the legitimacy of such a statement.

Again, a hypothetical situation. What if I decide one day to go to the mall. I walk around to various stores, look at some things, buy some others and go home. Sounds pretty normal. What I didn’t mention is that whole time, I was wearing a ski mask.

Is that okay?

Sure, it’s weird. A ski mask inside a store serves no useful purpose. It might make people nervous. But, should someone be allowed to ask me to remove it? If I refuse, should I be arrested? Being weird is not a crime. Sweating like a pig under the damn thing, while uncomfortable, again is not a crime. My reasons for wearing it should not matter. If I want to wear it, of my own free will, then I should be allowed to wear it whenever or wherever someone would be allowed to wear a niqab. To allow less, would be religious discrimination. The fact that I do not get to do something a religious person does is discrimination based on the fact that I am NOT religious. It is the same thing.

Would Mr. Garneau defend me in that case if i came and begged him? His statement says he would, my gut says he wouldn’t.

My main point again is this. Religious rights are great if they are applied equally and fairly to everyone, otherwise they are religious privileges. That is not okay. Again, as an atheist, it seems ludicrous to me that we would make laws and award privileges based upon a deity that in all likelihood doesn’t exist. I find it extremely perplexing that the pre-amble to our constitution mentions the Judeo-Christian God. If that is not privilege, I do not know what is. My opinion is that it even weakens the document. Canada should be a nation based on the rule of law, God should not enter into it.

On the other side of this argument is Mr. Harper and the Conservatives. At the end of the day, I cannot vote for them. Bill C51, the antiterrorism bill, just goes too far in so many ways, and is just the latest in a number of bills that I suspect go against the Charter. This government has a history of attacking Charter rights in the name of security or law and order. Historically, they also have a decidedly Christian slant to their party. It would probably be fair to say that their opposition to the niqab is probably more about who wears it and what their religion is, than womens’ right. I’ve frankly had enough of that behaviour.

So, I still don’t know what is reasonable, but I also suspect that a lot of people who have decided in their mind what is reasonable, would actually not be very reasonable when it comes down to it.

I’m still confused.

What’s Reasonable?

Sometimes it is easy to pick a side in a debate, one side is so clearly wrong that one can easily point out the problems and holes in their logic. Some debates are black and white.

Others are so many shades of grey. There are nuances that few tend to see, and as you start to peel away the layers of the onion, one problem after another starts to appear. Sometimes, a decision seems like the right one, but starts you down a slippery slope that you only realize has happened once you’re halfway down the damn thing.

Sometimes there is just no fair answer.

I fear that this is the problem we face when we deal with religious rights and what is known as reasonable accommodation. It is a laudable goal to respect a person’s religious rights and to make reasonable adjustments when those rights seem to go against what others may consider normal practice. The problem of course becomes – What is reasonable?

I fear we have hit that wall on the issue of religious articles of clothing such as the Niqab and the Hijab.

McGill UniversityJustin Trudeau made a speech at McGill University on Monday night on the politics of fear that is being practiced by the current government of Prime Minister Harper and the Conservatives. He is right, the bills introduced of late by the Conservatives have often been about stoking the fear of Canadians and using that fear to sell a law and order agenda that frankly is unneeded, and by most reasonable people’s interpretations, would go against the Charter. For much of his speech, I am in wholehearted agreement with him.

However, during his speech he commented on the topic of religious face and head coverings. He referred to a recent court decision that said that it goes against the Charter to ask a religious person to not cover their face with a Niqab during a citizenship ceremony. He also brought up a recent case where a Muslim woman was denied a court hearing in Quebec because she would not remove her Hijab.

Firstly, I do not think it unreasonable to expect a person to show their face when taking an oath of citizenship. To be able to see one’s face, to be able to see that the person taking the oath is the one that is supposed to take the oath is not an unreasonable request. Even the Charter uses the term reasonable.

Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms
1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

The second problem I see here, and perhaps those of us that are secular humanists and atheists see this differently than the general population, is that sometimes religion gets an extra set of rules that it gets to play with. Case in point, the court in Quebec that denied a Hijab wearing woman her day in court.

Now let me be clear, my gut feeling on this is that the judge most likely was coming at this from a position of bigotry. I have a feeling that there are many people who came into said courtroom in the past, wearing religious headgear of some other religion, and this judge took no issue. I suspect that that is the case. There is no way for me to know at this moment, but I suspect that that has happened in the past. If religious headgear or symbols have been allowed in that courtroom before, and if the judge allows people to swear on the Bible or the Koran, then the claim of that court being secular is total bunk. I suspect that that is the case. I have that feeling.

But lets pretend that the judge does run the courtroom in a secular manner; just for argument’s sake. Lets say that everyone in that courtroom affirms that they will tell the truth with a secular oath. With that established, lets say that the judge asks the woman to please remove her Hijab as a sign of respect for the secular courtroom. Is that unreasonable? I’m not going to answer that.

I would actually put it a different way. If we as a society think that it is wrong to make that woman remove her head covering because it goes against her deeply held religious beliefs, then are we obligated to honour those feeling? Before we answer that, another situation.

Justin TrudeauRobert is a hypothetical individual. Rob is an obsessive fan of the Montreal Canadiens. In 1993, he was wearing the cap of his favourite team and for some reason he never took it off outside his house that year. The team went all the way, won the cup. From that point on, every year the Habs make the playoffs, Rob wears his hat. It’s his good luck charm, and despite them not winning the Cup since, Rob truly believes that wearing his cap makes a difference. It is a deeply held, personal belief. I can judge it, I can think it’s a ridiculous belief; but it is his belief and he has every right to have it.

So, one day Rob lets his son borrow the car, and the car gets impounded. Rob goes to court to get his car back. The judge refuses to hear the case because Rob refuses to remove his hat. Rob gets kicked out of court.

How is this not the same thing?

Both “Rob the sports fanatic” and the woman wearing the Hijab are doing the same thing, refusing to remove an article of clothing that they have a strong belief that they have to wear when they are out in public. The fact that Rob’s belief is not based in a religion does not make it any more or any less valid. All that matters is that he has a deeply held personal belief and that going against that belief will cause him deep personal angst.

As an atheist, I cannot see Rob’s situation as any less or as any more than that of the woman wearing the Hijab. I have seen many people comment that a baseball cap is not the same as a religious headpiece? I would ask who are they to make that judgement on behalf of the person wearing said non-religious headpiece. If the religious person gets to wear their head covering, then everyone gets to wear their head covering as they see fit. To do otherwise is religious discrimination against those that do not hold said religion. It gives special treatment to those who claim a religious exception over those that live a secular existence.

It would seem that I have Mr. Trudeau on my side.

“For me, this is both unconscionable and a real threat to Canadian Liberty. For me, it is basic truth that Prime Ministers of liberal democracies ought not to be in the business of telling women what they can and cannot wear on their head during public ceremonies.”

I would hope he’d be just as fervent in Rob’s defense.