This Friday, South-Shore developer Nabil Warda is scheduled to unveil plans for a proposed Muslim enclave in or near Brossard. Warda is looking for a 100-hectare parcel of land to build an entire Islamic community, with schools and daycare, a mosque and community centre, halal market – and housing for hundreds of families.
Given the uproar and subsequent political and religious backflips, I suspect Mr. Warda will be forced to cancel both his public unveiling and his project. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if U.S. President-elect Donald Trump or France’s Marine Le Pen uses it as an example of what the world can look forward to if it doesn’t slam the door on Muslim immigration.
The reaction also speaks to the sociopolitical fault lines running through Quebec, fault lines that could very easily elect a revitalized Parti Quebecois government under new leader Jean-François Lisée. Lisée has been warning the Couillard government against watering down Bill 62, the Liberal version of what the Bouchard/Taylor Commission on religious accommodation had proposed.
News of Nabil Warda’s project broke on the Radio-Canada website Monday, prompting Health Minister Gaetan Barrette to say he supported the idea and compared it to Chinatown.
Tuesday, Barrette took it all back as the National Assembly voted unanimously — with one abstention — for a government motion calling on the municipal affairs minister to issue a directive to Quebec’s 1,600 or so municipalities that no residential housing project based on religion or ethnicity be approved.
Premier Couillard, in Morocco for another of those endless UN talkfests on climate change, was caught flat-footed after making what appears to be an unforced error. On Tuesday he told the travelling contingent of Canadian journalists he approved the right of Muslim women to cover their faces while undergoing testing for their driver’s licence, a practice currently allowed by Quebec’s Automobile Insurance Board (SAAQ)
Back home, Transport Minister Laurent Lessard and Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée has a different take. Essentially both said the SAAQ should be anticipating the passage of Bill 62. Adopted in first reading Tuesday, the law will make it illegal for anyone to give or receive public services with their face covered.
Hard pressed on the contradiction, Couillard performed a backflip.
The premier wasn’t alone. On its website, Brossard’s Islamic Community Centre disavowed any connection with Warda’s project, adding that “…certain unprofessional media organizations are trying to link the Brossard Community Center to development projects that are not initiated or approved by ICC or its management. We ask all media organizations to please refrain from publishing any such unfounded news unless confirmed by ICC management. This only creates negative reactions among all living in Quebec and Canada. We promote full integration within Quebec Society and we are proud Quebecers and Canadians.”
Both in and outside the NatAss, the dispute has triggered lively debate over what constitutes a ghetto. Is Montreal’s Chinatown a ghetto? Would an evangelical Christian or Orthodox Jewish community be considered a ghetto? Or those gated Italian enclaves in Montreal North?
Warda’s community wouldn’t bar non-Muslims but it would force them to live according to the rules of the majority. Does that make it a Muslim ghetto? In that case, many Hutterite and Mennonite communities in Ontario and western Canada would qualify.
And yet no other province has – to my knowledge – ordered municipalities not to approve residential developments based on religion or ethnicity.
It’s likely Warda’s Islamic community project would have been torpedoed prior to last week’s Republican sweep, but in just three days? Moreover, Couillard’s reversal shows the Liberals will do whatever it takes to get in line with public opinion. Everyone in government remembers what happened to the Marois PQ government’s ill-fated Quebec Charter of Values.
It’s a whole new world out there, what with Trump, Brexit and the resurgent European right. Elections in France and Germany will almost certainly reward the right-wing parties whose leaders were among the first to congratulate the president-elect. If Couillard and the Quebec Liberals hope to retain power, they’ll play to Quebec’s us-versus-them default instincts.
In a province where mistrust for les autres (those others) lies just beneath the surface, it’s an easy and popular adaptation to the new reality. Why allow ghettos when you can have ghetto nations?