Poli SAVVY: Quebec’s obsessions with Catherine Dorion’s clothes

White gloves off; Quebec politics is obsessed with pieces of clothes we should or shouldn’t wear.

Last week, it has once more demonstrated its patriarchal tendency to try and shut down women based on what they wear.

On Nov. 7, Catherine Dorion, the Québec Solidaire MNA for Taschereau, was refused access to the National Assembly in Quebec City for – cue dramatic music – wearing an orange hooded sweatshirt. This came at the end of another scandal involving the MNA, after a photo of her Halloween costume sparkled a lot of attention from the media. She appeared sitting on the main desk at the National Assembly, wearing what one would consider as the authentic, classic outfit of a female minister; high heels, skirt and a blazer.

Sadly, this is yet another example of a reductive obsession, where society is pushing the rhetoric that women must first gain credibility based on what they look like, not what they have to say.

For anyone not following Quebec’s politics, since her election, Dorion has been considered the underdog, a young politician challenging the conventional decorum while wearing “regular” clothes with her jeans, Doc Martens and colourful t-shirts.

A profound issue that arises from this scandal is the message it sends about who has a place in politics. Having such a debate over what some consider as a poor choice of outfit undeniably reflects the idea that politics is reserved for a certain elite; an elite who can afford to constantly be well-dressed.

Well-dressed according to who? When we take the true meaning of democracy – as to power to the people – it needs to reflect the diversity of our society, whether that means popular fashion, flamboyant, classy or simple day-to-day outfits.

This issue resonates deeply because the truth is, I haven’t emancipated myself yet from feeling the pressure that women have to look the part, to dress up in order to be taken seriously. I’ve long struggled to look good, but also try not to attract unwanted attention. I don’t want to be listened to because of my looks, but because of what I have to say.

Right now, Quebec is reinforcing this feeling by sending the message that women’s words and ideas won’t be considered… Unless we comply.

What Dorion is trying to do is show how politics are not reserved for old white men wearing ties. She is standing up against boomers afraid of change, who see wearing a hoodie to the National Assembly as a call for anarchy.

Ok boomers, breathe. This is simply what diversity in representation looks like.


Graphic by Victoria Blair


Another manifestation of Islamophobia in Quebec

How the construction and timing of Bill 62 is just another election campaign tactic

It’s disheartening that the same society that supports a woman’s choice to wear a short, black dress criminalizes a woman’s right to wear a long, black burka.

Since the National Assembly passed Bill 62 on Oct. 18, people have voiced mixed opinions about the “religious neutrality” law. The bill states that in order to give or receive public services—like public transit, healthcare and educational services—a person must have an uncovered face, according to the Montreal Gazette. While Bill 62 doesn’t explicitly target Muslim women who wear a face veil (the burka or niqab), it seems obvious the bill is geared towards that minority.

The fact that this religious neutrality bill was voted into law beneath a crucifix hanging in the National Assembly is as hypocritical as it gets. If Quebec really wanted religious neutrality, they would get rid of any symbol that directly refers to a religion—not just Islamic symbols like face coverings. Quebec doesn’t seem to know where it stands on religious neutrality, which just stirs up more confusion and controversy.

In Quebec, the exact number of Muslim women who wear a face veil is unknown, but according to the social research forum Environics Institute, three per cent of women in Canada wear the niqab. That number is even less in Quebec—which raises an important question. Why spend so much time and effort creating a law that marginalizes such a small group of women? The answer, I’ve realized, is a sickening election campaign trend in this province.

With less than a year until the provincial elections, this law has taken media outlets by storm and has created a tense, divisive political climate in Quebec. People are once again divided over a debate about Muslim women’s choice to wear what they want. It brings us back to 2013, when Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois attempted to remove all religious symbols under the guise of the Charter of Values.

“This ban shows that the government is trying to steer away attention from real issues,” said Razia Hamidi, the Montreal representative of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. “It’s not a priority for Quebecers. We’ve seen polls from the Angus Reid Institute that show that this issue is rated as very low priority. So why does the government continuously bring it up and give it so much attention?” In Hamidi’s opinion, the fact that this debate is happening with an election around the corner isn’t a coincidence and isn’t acceptable. “They can’t go around pushing such legislation whenever they need to get their voting rates up.”

A new Angus Reid Institute poll suggests 70 per cent of Quebec respondents favour the ban, while 23 per cent discourage it and only eight per cent say the niqab should be welcomed, according to the Montreal Gazette. Another poll from the same institute found that one in five Quebecers said Bill 62 would be an important factor when deciding which party to support, according to CBC News.

It seems to me the Liberals are playing a game of identity politics by attempting to appease future voters who dislike the niqab. And in a province where 42 per cent of the population dislike Islam, according to a 2016 Forum Research poll, it is an unfortunately effective tactic.

A conversation with Hafsa Hussain, a Muslim woman from Montreal, furthered my understanding of how strong anti-Muslim sentiments already are in Quebec. “I wear the hijab and abaya (a long loose dress). As it stands, I have received many verbal assaults out in public,” she said.

Hussain said she feels Bill 62 wasn’t intended for security reasons, but was a product of Islamophobia. “There hasn’t been a single case where a person wearing the niqab has posed any kind of threat,” she said. “I don’t see how this is a security issue. Whenever identification is required, women wearing the niqab don’t have any problems with complying and showing their faces. We have so many problems in Quebec to tackle, I find it ridiculous that they spent their time discussing dress codes instead of housing, health and education problems, to name just a few.”

At a press conference on Oct. 24, Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée attempted to reassure citizens that they would only be required to uncover their faces for identification purposes and when speaking directly with a public service employee. This would nonetheless prevent veiled women from checking out library books, speaking with hospital staff, picking up their children from daycare or attending classes, according to CBC News.

Educational institutions like Dawson College and Université de Montréal were quick to insist that women who wear face coverings should still be allowed to attend class, according to the Montreal Gazette. Similarly, a McGill spokesperson said the university must accommodate religious differences and “will continue to do so.” Here at Concordia, the history department condemned the bill and the CSU announced its intent to take action against the the legislation. Concordia president Alan Shepard himself said the status quo will remain unchanged on campus.

While it’s refreshing to see people protesting against the bill and speaking up, it’s also important to analyze the construction of Bill 62 and understand where it comes from. The harsh truth is that it is just another manifestation of Islamophobia in Quebec. It targets a small group of women and criminalizes their choice to wear a religious garment.

This bill also emboldens those with Islamophobic biases. Among other remarks, I’ve often heard the question: “If they want to cover their face so badly, why don’t they go back to their country?” The thing is, those countries don’t preach diversity and acceptance—Canada does. Our federal government seems to pride itself on accepting and promoting immigration and multiculturalism. So why shouldn’t women be allowed to freely express their religious beliefs? Legislation like Bill 62 contradicts Canada’s identity as a nation, and therefore should hold no validity.

Truthfully, a lot of people misunderstand Islam and spend more time disliking the faith than learning about it. With a little bit of effort, people could come to understand why Muslim women choose to wear the face veil. Asking their opinions instead of assuming negative stereotypes about them could solve this entire ignorant debate.

Freedom of choice dictates that one should have the right to express their individuality whether it be in the form of a little, black dress or a long, black burka. The government should have no place in telling women what to wear. After all, we live in a free society for all. Don’t we?

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


Why kneeling speaks louder than words

Colin Kaepernick’s protest has emphasized the debate on freedom of expression

Colin Kaepernick, an American football quarterback, took the country by storm after kneeling during the anthem at a National Football League (NFL) game in September 2016. His reasons for doing so weren’t out of spite or insult, but rather to protest against the continued violence and injustice towards people of colour in the United States.

Kaepernick’s form of protest spread as other athletes followed his example, even branching off into other sports, such as basketball. Unfortunately, not everyone approved of this type of protest. U.S. President Donald Trump, for one, reacted harshly, calling a player who kneels during the anthem a “son of a bitch,” according to The Guardian. Furthermore, Trump said athletes who kneel or show any “disrespect” to the national anthem should be fired, according to CNN. His words sparked protest and shock throughout the sports world. Across the different leagues in America, athletes voiced their contempt towards President Trump. Notable examples include the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player Lebron James, who spoke out against Trump, calling him a “bum” on Twitter.

In light of Trump’s comments, the Golden State Warriors basketball team refused an invitation from the president to visit the White House. Even football player Tom Brady, a close friend of Trump’s, sided against him, calling his words “divisive,” according to CNN.

President Trump has twisted a protest against racism into a matter of disrespecting the very essence of American pride. This isn’t the first time Trump has been insensitive towards issues of race, as demonstrated by his poor handling of the events during the Charlottesville riot. Yet with all his claims of others disrespecting the flag, according to the Washington Post, on Oct. 12, Trump made a joke during a bugle call, which is a military tradition that consists of raising the flag to show respect.

Although Trump claims Kaepernick’s protest is an instance of disrespect towards the American flag, it is bringing up the topic of the right to freedom of expression. When Kaepernick knelt in protest, he didn’t intend to ridicule the sport or the NFL, nor did he want to insult the symbolic or literal importance of the American flag. He wanted to bring awareness to a critical issue dividing Americans. He was protesting against issues of racial violence and police brutality—acts that are happening in America.

Mike Evans, a wide receiver for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, responded to Trump’s actions, saying in an interview with CTV News: “You know people say it’s unpatriotic, but it’s unpatriotic of the president to disrespect our rights.”

White House officials claimed they stood by Trump’s statement, and that it is always appropriate for the head of the nation to defend the flag. I was shocked when I heard the president justify his words by claiming he was protecting the American flag. I was surprised considering the flag was not the focus of the national anthem protests. What is under fire here are people’s constitutional rights.

As Kyries Hebert, a linebacker for the Montreal Alouettes, explained during an interview with CTV, whether it’s fighting for their country or fighting for a cause, people do not fight just to protect a flag. Although it’s an important symbol for any country or cause, people fight to defend and respect the constitution as well as the people it protects.
American athletes are not alone in protesting during the anthem. They’re being joined by their fellow athletes in the Canadian Football League, including players for the Calgary Stampeders and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Kaepernick’s and other athletes’ acts of protest have brought attention to a critical issue in America. Despite Trump’s comments, athletes in the United States, and even Canada, haven’t backed down. If anything, the actions to date have served only to reinforce the players’ resolve and unite them on issues of racial injustice and constitutional rights.

Regardless of race or nationality, we are all human. So long as we do not inflict harm on others, we each have the right to say our own piece. However, in today’s society, our words may no longer be enough. If anything, our actions have more power than ever before. As Kaepernick and many others have shown, we must use our actions responsibly—there is no telling how much of an impact they can have in a world where words may no longer be enough.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth 

Exit mobile version