Will you now condemn Quebec’s Bill 21, Mr. Trudeau?

Now that the election is over, will you admit that the question put to Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet was completely appropriate? 

Shachi Kurl. Image: News 1130

During the Sept. 9 debate of political leaders, moderator Shachi Kurl prefaced her question to Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet: “You deny that Quebec has problems with racism, yet you defend legislation, such as bills 96 and 21, which marginalize religious minorities, anglophones and allophones.”

Then why does your party, Kurl continued, support “discriminatory laws?”

Later, Mr. Trudeau, you said: “The premise of the question was wrong and quite frankly insulting to Quebeckers,” said Trudeau. “We know there is lots of work to do across the country to fight against systemic discrimination, to stand up against intolerance.”

The premise of the question was right on. If you weren’t so desperate to appease Bloc Quebecois supporters and curry their favour, you would have acknowledged how legitimate the question was.

You, and the other two leaders, were quivering in your boots at the thought of displeasing some Quebecers. You could have shown more spine and supported groups most discriminated by Bill 21; groups who dress differently because of their customs and culture.

Groups represented by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, for example. Fatema Abdalla, communications co-ordinator at the NCCM, said there was nothing wrong with the debate question itself.

“We must be clear that a law [Bill 21] that enshrines second-class citizenship to Quebec Muslims, Sikhs and Jews must be called out as discriminatory. At this very moment, we must see a clear commitment to calling it for what it is,” she said.

Quebec’s Bill 21 bans some public-sector workers such as teachers and police officers from wearing religious symbols or attire on the job.

“These laws are not about discrimination. They are about the values of Quebec,” Mr. Blanchet replied. He accused Ms. Kurl of unfairly criticizing Quebec in her question.

Shame on you, Mr. Blanchet for playing identity politics. What you describe as “values” are the fears of Quebecers that they under siege.  Bill 21 is a thinly veiled attack on people that look different. You claim that you are transferring power to ordinary people by removing religious symbols, specifically immigrants’ clothing. But Bill 21 is everything about fear of the “other” and nothing about the power of religions; now marginalized anyway.

Quebecers are confident, outward looking, cosmopolitan people. Many disagree with you. According to a opinion poll conducted in 2019, one-third of Quebecers don’t support your noxious bill.

Your identity politics didn’t work that well, did they Mr. Blanchet? You only picked up two more seats compared to the last federal election and most of those were from rural Quebec.

In urban areas, where people actually interact with immigrants, those fears evaporate. Montrealers overwhelmingly rejected your party.

Shachi Kurl’s question was tough but fair. It had been agreed on by a consortium of broadcasters.

Quebec’s politicians would not hesitate to ask hard questions of the rest of Canada –nor should they.

Too often, Canadians timidly defer valid criticisms of Quebec, apprehensive that they will politically-incorrect.

The politics of fear must to be exposed, Mr. Trudeau.  Not only should you challenge Bill 21 in court, but you should confront the shadowy fear of others wherever it’s found in Canada.

B.C. denies the mentally ill their constitutional rights

“Unlike most of country, B.C.’s legislation does not provide a lawyer for people with mental illness facing involuntary detention,” says Jay Chalke, B.C.’s ombudsperson (Globe and Mail, September 2, 2020)

Image: In These Times

Unlike other Canadian jurisdictions, mentally ill people can be held indefinitely -B.C. does not have an automatic review of ongoing detention.

That means that people, who may or may not be mentally ill, can be held endlessly.

Detention of people under the guise of mental illness can have political overtones. The Soviet Union misused psychiatry to get rid of political opponents. The term “philosophical intoxication,” a pseudo-scientific term for mental disorders, was applied to people who disagreed with the country’s Communist leaders.

I don’t mean to suggest that the government of B.C. is detaining political opponents under the Mental Health Act.  But systemic paternalism and racism can play a role.

And I don’t deny that mentally ill people who are violent need be detained for their own safety and the safety of others. The forced detention of unstable persons under the Mental Health Act is not the issue.

Given the treatment of Indigenous people as wards of the state, the detention of First Nations persons presents a complicating layer.

Take the case of “A.H.,” a First Nations 39-year-old woman who was wrongfully detained for almost a year.

In a court case between A.H. and the Fraser Health Authority, the Supreme Court of B.C. learned that A.H. had been held against her will and that she was not even found to be mentally ill.

It wasn’t a simple case -A.H. suffers from cognitive impairments and mental health issues. She has a history of substance abuse, family violence and sexual abuse. She was also diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

A.H.’s mother sexually exploited her by pressuring her to drink alcohol and take drugs to make her compliant to sexual abuse. She did not have clean clothes or sufficient food.

After she was detained, authorization to hold her longer than 48 hours under the Mental Health Act expired. Despite that, she remained captive. She asked staff to provide a lawyer but staff said they couldn’t help. She was not told why she was being detained and tried to escape. On at least one occasion, A.H. was physically restrained with mechanical restraints that tied her to the bed. She was forced to take medications, including sedatives.

In her ruling of the case in 2019, Honourable Madam Justice Warren said:

“However, the procedures for Mental Health Act certification were not followed and there is no evidence that A.H. was certifiable under that legislation.

“The detention decision deprived A.H. of her liberty, the most fundamental of her rights.  The consequences could scarcely have been more serious.  It is apparent that A.H. did not understand the basis for her detention or the reasons for it.  She expressed, multiple times during the course of the detention, confusion about her ongoing detention, repeatedly asking why she could not go home.”

The detention of unstable mentally ill people under B.C.’ Mental Health Act is necessary for the protection of themselves and others. But the unjustified detention of people under the pretext of doing it for their own good smacks of paternalism, and in the case of First Nations people, colonialism.