A lesson for all of Quebec

Special to The Post
The Quebec Soccer Federation has issued a statement saying it is pleased to have finally obtained a formal ruling from soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, that there is no reason to ban players from wearing religious head coverings.
What its authorities should more rightly have done is hang their heads in shame for having jumped the gun on the issue last summer by banning Sikh players from wearing turbans on the province’s soccer pitches. It engulfed the Quebec soccer body in a firestorm of controversy and got it banished from the national soccer governing body for a time.
Both reasons cited by Quebec association officials were bogus.
They claimed on the one hand that FIFA had not issued a ruling expressly allowing the head coverings, but then neither had FIFA explicitly banned them.
On the other hand, it maintained that the turbans posed a safety risk, though it could not cite a single case of a turban-related soccer injury from other provinces and countries that allow the head coverings. Nor from right here in Quebec, where they had been freely worn for years before the Quebec association got its jockstrap in a knot over them.
The FIFA ruling issued last weekend followed an extensive study by the international body, including field trials, that found neither the turbans, nor the hijabs worn by some female players — which the Quebec association had also banned for a time — pose any danger to players. It is a ruling the Quebec association would have done well to have waited for before taking the action it did. That action made it look foolish and intolerant.
But then, the soccer association has not been alone in rushing to judgment in the absence of evidence that head coverings pose a problem.
The soccer controversy merely presaged the subsequent furor over the Parti Québécois government’s oppressive values charter, which would ban the wearing of religious symbols by public-sector employees, a measure that would largely affect women of the Muslim faith, and Jewish and Sikh men who wear religious head coverings.
Here again, the government has so far produced no study or reasonable explanation of why such a discriminatory undertaking is necessary in a modern, multicultural Quebec. Polls show that only a small minority of Quebecers have ever even dealt with a public employee wearing one of the items, never mind suffering harm from such an encounter.
At a recent symposium honouring the late Claude Ryan, former premier Jean Charest said Quebecers should have the right to demand explanations and examples of problems before bowing to any curbs on fundamental freedoms.
“The worst scenario is when we make laws founded on fear of another, when we make laws rooted in ignorance, when we create laws that make assumptions of other people, laws that appeal to the lowest common denominator. Then we have created a problem before coming up with a solution.”
It is what the soccer federation did with its ill-considered turban ban, and what the provincial government is in the process of doing on a much larger scale.
This story was originally published in The Montreal Gazette
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