A storm is continuing to brew in Canada’s province of Quebec where the provincial government is expected to propose regulations that limit freedom of religion in the province. Earlier this summer, the Parti Quebecois (PQ), the governing party, supported the Quebec Soccer Federation’s now-overturned ban on the patka (a form of turban worn by young Sikh boys), and it is expected that Quebec’s government will be proposing a ban on religious articles of faith such as the turban, hijab and yarmulke, worn by public employees.
The new proposal is being promoted in the guise of secularism, but has been met with much opposition within Quebec and across Canada (which formally incorporates multiculturalism as national policy). It is generally believed that the PQ is engaging in political machinations in order to increase support ahead of provincial elections.
A perspective from a Sikh woman on the emerging controversy is provided by the Sikh Feminist Research Institute (SAFAR) who interviews Palbinder Kaur Shergill, general counsel of the World Sikh Organization, based in Canada:
It’s never just about Sikh women. A Sikh stands up for the rights of everyone and against the oppression of anyone based on religion, race, gender or sexual orientation. There is an obligation for all of us to speak up and advocate for those that cannot advocate for themselves. The Sikh community has been very fortunate to have had opportunities to advocate for itself, but there are many communities that cannot. There is a basic fundamental right to religious freedom. As a Sikh woman and a Canadian I think it’s crucial to stand up for what’s right.
While the controversy continues in Quebec, we are reminded about the fragility of our civil rights in North America, even in a country that espouses civil rights and religious freedom. We are also reminded that it’s never just about Sikh women, but also, it’s never just about Sikh men, either. The obligation to defend rights is a mandate for all Sikhs, regardless of gender, but also in support of the rights of each gender.
Read the entire interview with Palbinder Kaur at IntLawGrrls.