Jun 272013
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Quebec's short-lived policy points to need for more education on multiculturalism. 

by Mehdi Rizvi

The Quebec Soccer Federation has reversed its ban on players wearing turbans on the pitch, saying it  is pleased with Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s  (FIFA) clarification on the issue and it’s ”deeply sorry” if anyone was offended.”  Thus ended the game between supporters and opponents of the issue, as  recently played on Quebec soccer fields.

According to a poll sponsored by Montreal based Association for Canadian Studies, 47 percent residents of the province agreed that wearing turban is a risk on the field, and 36 percent disagreed.

Canada has been preaching acceptability, assimilation, tolerance and understanding for the last 43 years.  Unfortunately,  practice sometimes does not coincide with the written principle, as we have seen in this case.

While the soccer issue has been resolved for now, it has opened a new debate on reasonable accommodation for immigrant communities in Canada, especially in Quebec, and left many scars on the face of the muticulturalism policy introduced by Pierre Trudeau in 1970.  The turban tussle took a political turn when the Quebec Soccer Federation’s decision was opposed by federal politicians but supported by Quebec provincial government, before being reversed by FIFA.

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois immediately defended the ban, saying the Quebec organization is “autonomous,” and not bound by “the Canadian federation.” NDP leader Tom Mulcair, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and Immigration Minster Jason Kenney denounced the ban and said provincial soccer federation “should absolutely follow the rules”.

A similar situation captured newspaper headline a few years back when the Hérouville city council in Quebec banned Muslim women from wearing the hijab.  Later the decision was reversed.

The Quebec government’s stand on the soccer issue needs to be studied in the light of the realities of Canada’s changing make up and Quebec’s different attitude to immigrants.

Trudeau introduced his multiculturalism policy with a broad mind and an open heart.  Canada has been preaching acceptability, assimilation, tolerance and understanding for the last 43 years.  Unfortunately,  practice sometimes does not coincide with the written principle, as we have seen in this case.

This situation raises important questions about the out comes of Multiculturism policy. Why there is a contrast between preaching and practice?  Why these kinds of situations are more visible and vocal in Quebec and they are at odds with rest of the country?  What kinds of fences do we want to build between 850,000 kids who play soccer in Canada?

South Asian and Middle Eastern societies have centuries-old traditions of wearing head coverings, whether the hijab or the turban. Whatever shape, style, and significance people embrace, for most the head covering is considered a sign of honour and respect, as well as a deep-rooted cultural practice.
Turbans obviously have a religious significance for Sikhs.  The word turban derives from the Persian word dulband and has been in existence time immemorial. Traditionally, wearing a turban is a sign of holiness and spirituality; it represents a symbol of respectability in the Sikh community.

Immigrants come to Canada to build a bright future and attain economic and educational prosperity but not to compromise their cultural and religious values. There have been Sikhs living in Canada for more than 150 years and they have played vital roles in all spheres of national development.

Canada is spending millions of dollars on research and studies of settlement and integration issues.   Such research can help governments, organizations, sports bodies and individuals understand Canada better, how it has been changing, and where it may be heading.

Not all Quebeckers agreed with the turban ban. Business consultant Judy Farrant said that at first, "I was stunned by the ban… ” But then she heard that Quebeckers were protesting too.

“I was heartened,” she said, “to hear of the coach and his players in Brossard, Quebec, showing up at a game wearing turbans in support of players who wear them consistent with their faith expression. To me, the coach and players' action collective action demonstrates the best of what Canada can be and aspire to.”

This expression of solidarity with Sikh kids is the Canadian way of embracing acceptance and integration — multiculturism in action, with no visible fences of faith, face and race in between various segments of society.

We are in a process of weaving a new multicultural and multicoloured fabric of Canadian identity, which cannot be achieved by keeping some kids out of soccer fields, but by becoming more respectful and tolerant of differences.

About Mehdi Rizvi

Mehdi Rizvi is a former member of the Community Editorial Board, Toronto Star and an affiliate of the Center of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement, which is a consortium of three Toronto universities. He is a chemist who has worked in the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, cement and UV printing products for the last 35 years.

© Copyright 2013 Mehdi Rizvi, All rights Reserved. Written For: StraightGoods.ca

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