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I’m always impressed with La Belle Province and her ability to serve up controversy. Recently a judge in Quebec decided that a hijab was considered not to be suitable attire for her courtroom and dismissed a case when the litigant refused to comply with her request. The judge’s words courtesy of the CBC:
“Hats and sunglasses for example, are not allowed. And I don’t see why scarves on the head would be either,” Marengo says in the recording.
“The same rules need to be applied to everyone. I will therefore not hear you if you are wearing a scarf on your head, just as I would not allow a person to appear before me wearing a hat or sunglasses on his or her head, or any other garment not suitable for a court proceeding.”
The stage is set and the result:
“When El-Alloul first appeared before Marengo, the judge asked her why she had a scarf on her head. El-Alloul replied that it was because she is a Muslim. The judge then said she would take a 30-minute recess.
When Marengo returned, she told El-Alloul she had a choice: remove her headscarf immediately or apply for a postponement in order to consult a lawyer. El-Alloul replied that she couldn’t afford a lawyer and that she didn’t want to postpone the case. Marengo then adjourned the case indefinitely.”
Boom. Tinder meet match. Religious freedom versus the institutional values of a secular court.
There are a multitude of ways to look at what transpired in the courtroom but here are two that I think represent both sides of the argument.
A. In a secular court of law, the secular values and rules of a society must be followed. If a judge rules that what you’re wearing to be inappropriate for the proceedings it behooves you to follow the same standards that everyone else must follow.
B. Canada is a multicultural society and we respect and treasure the cultural practices that every Canadian brings to the table and, if secular protocol can be reinterpreted to allow for the diversity of cultural expression within secular institutions we should do so.
Before we go into further discussion we should note the reaction from El-Alloul, it was one of shock and dismay:
“[…] But what happened in court made me feel afraid. I felt that I’m not Canadian anymore.”
“El-Alloul said she’s speaking out because she doesn’t want what happened to her to happen to any other Muslim woman. When she insisted I should remove my hijab, really I felt like she was talking with me as … not a human being. I don’t want this thing to happen to any other lady. This is not the work of a judge. She doesn’t deserve to be a judge.”
El-Alloul is rightly quite upset at the outcome of her hearing (or lack thereof). There should be a more amenable solution available to the parties involved – a transfer to a different judge that has a more liberal interpretation of ‘suitably dressed’ might have saved a lot of ink and electrons as this story blossomed across Canadian news networks.
This seemingly simple case of what “suitably dressed” means and how it is enforced speaks to how intersectional an issue multiculturalism is. Institutional power in Canada remains largely white and male and thus reflects the normative values of what is considered ‘normal’ culture here in Canada. From this orthodoxy we get the notions such as:
1. Why should our Canadian institutions cater to every whim of the minorities?
2. If it is good enough for everyone else, what is the problem here?
3. Why aren’t secular Canadian values being learned by new Canadians?
Under the assumption that we are a multicultural society, clearly, point 1 is out to lunch. The very point of having a tolerant open society is that we appreciate and try to accommodate the everyone and their preferences within the state structure of Canada.
Point 2 is problematic because the words “everyone else” usually uses the dominant culture as a touchstone thus, by play of words, avoids the obvious racism associated with similar statements.
Point 3 has the most merit as new Canadians do adopt Canadian values and standards, but the process of acculturation takes a great deal of time, often generations before the values of the dominant culture are ingrained. It is unrealistic however to expect that somehow Canadians of all types have a switch that can be flipped instantaneously that would guarantee cultural assimilation.
The Hijab should be allowed in Canadian courtrooms as it does not interfere with workings of the court or the dispensing of justice.
However, as an open and tolerant secular society we should also have the ability to rightly name and not adopt cultural practices that would be corrosive to our society. For instance, honour killings and female genital mutilation, have no place in Canadian or any other civilized society and I can assert this claim with a good deal of confidence because we need only to discuss the negative impacts these practices have on those societies who still practice these modalities (cultural relativism be damned).
I enjoy many musical modes of expression – this isn’t one of them – but performing good music despite technical limitations is a worthy undertaking.
And really, the V is only a few steps away from the trombone… :)
Sometimes its hard to put your finger on what exactly this mysterious patriarchy is. Robert Jensen does a good job of offering an explanation.
“This past year I have written about rape culture and trans ideology, in both cases anchoring an analysis in the problem of patriarchy. I’m often told that the term “patriarchy” is either too radical and alienating, or outdated and irrelevant. Yet it’s difficult to imagine addressing problems if we can’t name and critique the system out of which the problems emerge.
The late feminist historian Gerda Lerner defined patriarchy as “the manifestation and institutionalization of male dominance over women and children in the family and the extension of male dominance over women in the society in general.” Patriarchy implies, she continued, “that men hold power in all the important institutions of society and that women are deprived of access to such power. It does not imply that women are either totally powerless or totally deprived of rights, influence and resources.”
Like any resistance movement, feminism does not speak with one voice from a single unified analysis, but it’s hard to imagine a feminism that doesn’t start with the problem of patriarchy, one of the central systems of oppression that tries to naturalize a domination/subordination dynamic. In the case of feminism, this means challenging the way that patriarchy uses the biological differences between male and female (material sex differences) to justify rigid, repressive and reactionary claims about men and women (oppressive gender norms).
How should we understand the connection between sex and gender? Given that reproduction is not a trivial matter, the biological differences between male and female humans are not trivial, and it is plausible that these non-trivial physical differences could conceivably give rise to significant intellectual, emotional and moral differences between males and females. Yet for all the recent advances in biology and neuroscience, we still know relatively little about how the biological differences influence those capacities, though in contemporary culture many people routinely assume that the effects are greater than have been established. Male and female humans are much more similar than different, and in patriarchal societies based on gendered power, this focus on the differences is used to rationalize disparities in power.
In short: In patriarchy, “gender” is a category that functions to establish and reinforce inequality. While sex categories are part of any human society — and hence some sex-role differentiation is inevitable, given reproductive realities — the pernicious effects of patriarchal gender politics can, and should, be challenged.”
The rest of the article can be found on Nation of Change.
Why should children have to burn to death because of bureaucratic mismanagement? The CBC sets the scene.
“An early-morning fire on a First Nation west of Meadow Lake, Sask., has claimed the lives of two toddlers — prompting criticism about the lack of firefighting services on reserves. RCMP said officers were dispatched around 1:30 a.m. CST Tuesday to the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation, where they found a home engulfed in flames. They said a man, who had gone to the home and found it was on fire, came out carrying two small children. According to RCMP, the man was the father of the two-year-old boy and one-year-old girl. Both children died at the scene.”
Unpaid bills apparently are the reason why children must die.
“Chief Richard Ben of Makwa Sahgaiehacan said the community, which is 60 kilometres west of Meadow Lake, usually depends on volunteer firefighters from Loon Lake, but they didn’t respond.
Volunteer fire chief Larry Heon in Loon Lake, near the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation, says he got an automated call about the fire Tuesday morning, his crew didn’t go to the scene. The reserve sent a letter cancelling its contract last year with the village for fire services, Heon said.”
Let this be a lesson to those who clamour for more privatization of public services – it comes down to the simple reality witnessed here. The present situation is more complex as we are discussing a different jurisdiction – a First Nations Reserve – the question of funding, and the allocation of resources comes into play.
“Makwa Sahgaiehcan, like other First Nations across [Saskatchewan], does not receive sufficient funding to cover even two fire calls per year from the municipal volunteer fire department,” the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations said in a statement released Thursday. Unless there is a significant increase in funding, there is no way First Nations can meet any kind of fire safety codes and regulations,” said FSIN vice-chief Dutch Lerat”
It would seem that the murky mess that is the First Nations/Canadian government relationship is also at fault in this situation.
“Funding levels are determined by a regionally based formula, according to Aboriginal Affairs, which factors in the number of buildings on reserve, remoteness, population and local environment. Local band councils manage fire protection services on reserve and prioritize spending according to their needs. Communities can divert funding meant for fire services to other areas that are more urgent.”
Mmm… Is it just me or does being able to reallocate funds meant for fire protection seem like a bad idea? Surface evaluation though let’s look a little deeper at the situation and how one First Nations representative sees it:
“He said, for example, that often there is not enough fuel on reserves to heat the fire halls, so fire trucks are in the cold in the wintertime and unable to respond to calls fast enough. There also might not be adequate water infrastructure with the proper pressure to combat fires. Another challenge is the regulatory gap where no inspections or building codes are mandated, said Blaine Wiggins of the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada, which receives about $200,000 from Aboriginal Affairs to co-ordinate prevention initiatives.
Without enforceable requirements or national standards, he said, safety issues don’t get fixed.
Fire services are not just about suppressing fires, he said in an interview with CBC News, but also about building codes, as well as home safety, prevention programs and general awareness.
“What’s needed is the entire gamut of fire services,” Wiggins said, in order to get First Nation reserves to be comparable to off-reserve communities.”
The problem, unsurprisingly, seem to be systemic in nature requiring that basic improvements to infrastructure and building codes be in place before meaningful changes can happen.
These are ‘chicken and egg’ type problems. It is sadly symbolic of the so many of the problems and difficulties First Nations communities face. It illustrates the government of Canada’s lack of planning and foresight when it comes to First Nations communities.
The problems of this particular incident are many fold, but we should start with those responsible for the safety of their community – Chief Richard Ben claimed that he “didn’t remember signing that [fire] contract” and that he “didn’t know”. That dear friends is horseshit weaseling at its finest. If the buck doesn’t stop with the leader of one’s community where does it stop?
The second issue is funding from the Canadian government. The process of distributing funds for fire protection on Reserves seems designed to fail, right from square one.
So, individual and bureaucratic failure unnecessarily costs people their lives. Oh Canada :( Let’s get in there and make sure that all of our citizens have access to basic public services.
When christian’s ask you to go read teh bible, it should go something like this: