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FIRST READING: Hating Quebec’s hijab ban is suddenly okay again


Trade war! (again)

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First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent direct to your inbox every Monday to Thursday at 6 p.m. ET (and 9 a.m. on Sundays), sign up here.

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Ottawa’s politicos are suddenly very, very angry about Bill 21 , the two-year-old Quebec law that bans public employment for anyone who wears religious garb such as kippahs, turbans, hijabs or crucifixes. The context, of course, was the recent removal of Quebecer Fatemeh Anvari from her job as a grade three teacher due to her hijab. “It’s cowardly,” said cabinet minister Marc Miller , whose riding is in Montreal. “Nobody in Canada should ever lose their job because of what they wear or their religious beliefs,” said the prime minister’s office in a statement . “Time for political leaders to take a stand against Bill 21,” said now-retired Trudeau cabinet minister Catherine McKenna. “I know what that’s like — to feel like you don’t belong because of the way you look,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh .

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And yet, it was only three months ago that most of these same figures were pillorying Shachi Kurl – the moderator of the English language leaders’ debate – for asking a question to Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet that was critical of Bill 21 (she said it was a “discriminatory” law that “marginalize religious minorities, anglophones, and allophones”). “I don’t think that question was acceptable or appropriate,” said Trudeau in public comments that demanded an apology from Kurl. Singh also threw shade on Kurl, saying in a statement , “It’s a mistake to imply that only one province has a problem with systemic racism when it’s a problem everywhere in Canada.”

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Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, meanwhile, has remained consistent : He openly said he didn’t intend to do anything about Bill 21 at the time of the debate, and he doesn’t now. “I don’t agree with the secular tenets of Bill 21 but it is a question for Quebec to decide,” he said Thursday . This sentiment wasn’t shared by the rest of his caucus. One of the more forceful was Ontario MP Kyle Seeback, who wrote in a tweet , “This is an absolute disgrace … Bill 21 has to be opposed. In court, in the house of commons and in the streets.”

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Quebec Premier François Legault said that the solution to the whole saga is simple : Fatemeh Anvari shouldn’t have been working at a Quebec elementary school to begin with . Critics of the bill noted that this is indeed Bill 21’s intent: Rather than resulting in dramatic, polarizing firings like that of Anvari, it’s simply supposed to ensure that those people never get hired in the first place .

IN OTHER NEWS

The mayor of Surrey is facing criminal charges for allegedly pulling a Jussie Smollett . After getting into an argument with a woman outside city hall in September, Mayor Doug McCallum told reporters that the woman had then run over his foot. Despite having had an appendage crushed by a 1,600 kg vehicle (he said the woman was driving a Mustang) McCallum also reported that his foot was completely fine. “I’m a pretty tough guy,” was what he told Postmedia at the time. The RCMP didn’t buy any of this story, so they recommended to the Crown that McCallum be charged with public mischief .

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Generally, these things really mess your foot up if they run over it.
Generally, these things really mess your foot up if they run over it. Photo by Chris Balcerak

Ontario has just enacted a “right to disconnect” law which effectively bans employers from calling or emailing employees outside work hours. Writing for the Financial Post, labour lawyer Howard Levitt took the law to its technical extreme and concluded that employers could be forced to pay three-hour’s wages if they made so much as a 30-second phone to an employee after-hours . We here at First Reading aren’t bound by such temporal limitations, however: Email us for free anytime, day or night.

The COVID-19 pandemic has backed-up surgeries so badly in Saskatchewan that the Land of Tommy Douglas is now considering heresy : Privatizing select medical procedures and paying for them with public funds. Canadian governments routinely do this kind of thing for highway maintenance, financial auditing, workplace training, garbage collection, tech support, graphic design, aircraft charters, landscaping, legal services, catering, snow removal, wildfire suppression, engineering assessments and forestry management. But of course, doing it with medical care will immediately plunge us all into a U.S.-style dystopia.

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The Assembly of First Nations recently considered a pitch to build a $2 million permanent home in Ottawa for their national chief . Just as dozens of countries maintain official ambassadorial residences in the Canadian capital, the idea was that the Indigenous peoples of Canada would get a place to put their top representative. Regional chiefs (many of whom happen to represent communities with some of the worst housing stocks in the country) rejected the idea in a vote.

Mel Lastman, the first mayor of an amalgamated Toronto, died Saturday at age 88. Wildly popular in his home city (he won the 2000 election with 80 per cent of the popular vote), Lastman also cultivated a legacy as one of Canada’s more gaffe-prone public figures, such as when he said in a CNN interview at the height of Toronto’s SARS crisis that he had no idea who the World Health Organization was.
Mel Lastman, the first mayor of an amalgamated Toronto, died Saturday at age 88. Wildly popular in his home city (he won the 2000 election with 80 per cent of the popular vote), Lastman also cultivated a legacy as one of Canada’s more gaffe-prone public figures, such as when he said in a CNN interview at the height of Toronto’s SARS crisis that he had no idea who the World Health Organization was. Photo by Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency)

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

It seems that Canada is going to keep getting plunged into U.S. trade wars regardless of who’s in the White House . This time around, it’s due to a proposed U.S. tax credit on American-made electric vehicles that would effectively undercut vast swaths of the Ontario auto sector. So, in a polite-but-firm letter to Washington, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and International Trade Minister Mary Ng threatened a suite of counter-tariffs if the tax credit went through. “In the coming days, we are preparing to publish a list of U.S. products that may face Canadian tariffs if there is no satisfactory resolution of this issue,” they wrote. Canada last did this with the U.S. just two years ago, when then-U.S. President Donald Trump slapped prohibitively high tariffs on imports of Canadian steel and aluminum.

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An excerpt from the Dec. 10 letter.
An excerpt from the Dec. 10 letter. Photo by Government of Canada

(And if you’re an alienated Westerner, you might wonder why no such terse letter was drafted when Biden cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline . In that case, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his “ disappointment ” with the decision, but openly acknowledged his intent to do nothing about it).

The U.S. has a new ambassador to Canada, and he arrived in Ottawa eager to convince his hosts to start taking the boots to China . “I think for both Canada and the United States, and you could argue for every democracy in the world, China is our greatest threat,” David Cohen told the Globe and Mail . More specifically, Cohen said he hoped Canada would keep an eye on its rare earth minerals before Chinese firms snapped them all up.

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Speaking of China, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly implied last week that the Two Michaels were not technically free from their arbitrary custody at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party . “The two Michaels are on bail according to the criminal law in China, and so we want to make sure we work that out with the Chinese government,” Joly told CBC’s Power and Politics. Carson Jerema has thoughts (he said Joly’s comments were “a gift to Beijing propagandists”).

And a solid majority of Canadians think that Ottawa’s diplomatic boycott of Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics isn’t going far enough . A new Research Co. poll found that 56 per cent of respondents supported a full-fledged boycott of the games that would see Canada withhold its athletes from competition.

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Just like its cross-the-pole Canadian cousin, Finland has been looking to replace its fleet of aging F-18s with one of several possible replacements, including the Lockheed Martin F-35 and the Saab Gripen. Last week, the Finns officially went with the F-35 (pictured above at a Berlin airshow), ruling that the plane was ultimately the best at combat and reconnaissance. Last month, the Canadian Armed Forces announced that their search had been winnowed down to either the Gripen or the F-35.
Just like its cross-the-pole Canadian cousin, Finland has been looking to replace its fleet of aging F-18s with one of several possible replacements, including the Lockheed Martin F-35 and the Saab Gripen. Last week, the Finns officially went with the F-35 (pictured above at a Berlin airshow), ruling that the plane was ultimately the best at combat and reconnaissance. Last month, the Canadian Armed Forces announced that their search had been winnowed down to either the Gripen or the F-35. Photo by REUTERS/Axel Schmidt/File Photo

COVID

Canada’s attempts to curb the spread of the omicron variant have ended up involving an awful lot of imprisoning people in hotels for no reason . Ottawa man Andrew Cavalerski returned to Canada from a business trip to Egypt and was ordered stay in hotel quarantine until he could furnish a negative COVID-19 test. Three negative tests later, and Cavalerski told CTV News he still wasn’t allowed to leave. “I’m on day five of arriving back to Canada and I still can’t get home,” he said.

For those in a similar position to Cavalerski, the good news is that if they simply got up and left the Public Health of Canada may not even notice. A new report by the Auditor General found that ever since Canada first mandated mandatory hotel stays for returning travellers, health officials have categorically failed to track whether people are actually doing it . “Because the agency did not have records of stay for 75 per cent of travellers who flew into Canada, it did not know whether those who were required to quarantine at government authorized hotels had complied,” wrote Auditor General Karen Hogan. Incredibly, PHAC didn’t even bother to track people who tested positive for COVID upon arrival into Canada: If they skipped their hotel quarantine, the agency would have had no way of knowing.

This photo admittedly has very little to do with Canadian politics, but we thought it pertinent to note that the U.K.’s Natural History Museum has knitted a Christmas sweater for its full-size animatronic tyrannosaurus rex.
This photo admittedly has very little to do with Canadian politics, but we thought it pertinent to note that the U.K.’s Natural History Museum has knitted a Christmas sweater for its full-size animatronic tyrannosaurus rex. Photo by Natural History Museum

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