Monday, January 20, 2014

Canadian multiculturalism: The more the merrier

WHEN the government of the French-speaking province of Quebec introduced a bill in November to stop public servants from wearing religious symbols, it gave a community hospital in neighbouring Ontario a chance to grab some new recruits. Lakeridge Health ran an advertisement in a Quebec medical-school newspaper showing a woman wearing a hijab and stethoscope over the caption: “We don’t care what’s on your head, we care what’s in it.” Applications doubled, says Kevin Empey, the hospital’s boss.

The Quebec government’s proposed ban and the Ontario hospital’s welcome illustrate the poles in the Canadian debate on multiculturalism. Public hearings on the law began on January 14th. Supporters say that the ban is needed to enshrine state secularism; opponents that it is a cynical appeal to xenophobia by the minority provincial government of the Parti Québécois (PQ). Either way, the prediction of Jean-François Lisée, a PQ minister, that the Quebec battle could be the last stand in Canada’s multicultural experiment does not stand up to close scrutiny.

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