Canada: The halal affair: Shameless prejudice imported from France

The Vancouver Sun

Mario Dumont is certainly no Pierre Elliott Trudeau, of whom it was more famously said, but it seems that he too haunts us still.

As leader of the lately departed Action démocratique du Québec, Dumont generated a wave of sup-port that nearly carried the party to power – and himself to the premiership – five years ago by feeding old-stock Quebecers’ atavistic fears about their collective identity being undermined by cultural and religious accommodations made to immigrant groups. Most prominently targeted was the province’s burgeoning Muslim population.

After a career-ending repudiation in the last provincial election, Dumont has recycled himself as a TV talking head, but he’s still grabbing attention by stoking xenophobia. Last week he stirred up a controversy over the growing encroachment of halal meats on Quebec’s food store shelves.

Halal is meat derived from animals slaughtered in accordance with Islamic ritual method, which differs only marginally – at least as it’s done in this country – from standard slaughtering technique. It is much the same as Jewish kosher production, whereby the animals are killed by slitting their throats after being blessed by a rabbi. Dumont charged on his show that the halal method has become standard practice at some Quebec slaughterhouses, and that not all the meat they produce in this manner is labelled halal when packaged for sale. His complaint was prominently amplified by the Journal de Montréal, which proclaimed in a screaming front-page headline the following day: “We are all eating halal.”

Oh, the horror!

The Parti Québécois, which in today’s incarnation eagerly seizes any excuse to exploit Quebecers’ cultural insecurities for electoral gain, promptly piled on, denouncing the halal propagation as an unreasonable accommodation incompatible with Quebec values.

Not to be outdone in catering to prejudices, both the governing Liberals and the upstart Coalition Avenir Québec joined in with calls for a strict labelling requirement for halal, even though there is no discernible difference between halal and non-halal product sold in stores.

It is pertinent to note the quarter whence this uproar stems.

Not from any reports of food poisoning caused by halal consumption. Nor from any consumer complaints about the quality of halal meat.

Halal meat production is rigorously policed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in accordance with standards applied to all meat plants, and has been certified as healthy and not unduly cruel. At the plant in question, the only departure from standard slaughtering practice in halal production is the blessing of the birds.

So no, this uproar did not stem from any reported, and much less confirmed, local problem.

Rather it was imported from France, lifted whole-cloth from a similar gripe about unlabelled halal being sold in Paris.

It was originally raised by Marine Le Pen, the presidential candidate of the extreme-right-wing National Front party, which has long made immigrant-baiting a stock in trade.

It is disturbing to see Quebec media and politicians taking cues from such a disreputable source, and shameful that they are fanning intolerance against an immigrant community on the pretence of standing up for Quebec values.

Halal, kosher meat stir pot in Quebec, ‘racism’ charged
Tuesday March 20 2012
Special to South Asian Focus

Following in the footsteps of France, some Quebecers are starting to worry that halal meat is increasingly being sold to consumers without their knowledge.

Framing the issue once again within the divisive debate over how far Quebecers must go to accommodate religious minorities, the Parti Québécois last week complained people should know if the meat they’re buying has been slaughtered according to Islamic ritual.

Quebec is “losing control” over this issue, the PQ’s agriculture critic told reporters. “Religious slaughter is legal, but it must remain the exception,” André Simard said. “However, it has become the rule.”

Simard, in a statement, added, “This type of slaughter collides head on with Quebecers’ values.”
The politician denounced the fact that the province’s food inspection agency had no information on the volume of halal and kosher production, the amount consumed, imported and exported.

Halal meat comes from animals that have been killed according to Islamic norms. The animal is bled by cutting its throat, accompanied by an Islamic prayer.

Abdelhamid Aouchiche, owner of the Montreal’s Boucherie Tassili, a halal butcher, was furious with the PQ for creating a “polemic” on halal meat.

“It’s not becoming the norm in Quebec,” said Aouchiche, also the founder of an association that certifies butchers and meat packers as halal — something the government doesn’t do.

“What (the PQ) is doing is simply creating discrimination,” he said. “They are following France, and what’s happening in France? Racism.”

Halal meat has become a major issue in the French presidential election. A recent public television documentary there raised questions when it claimed all meat in the region of Paris is halal. The extreme right party quickly took up the cause.

The controversy in Quebec has been mounting as media reports unearthed instances where halal meat has become the norm.

In one case, halal meat is served to all children at a daycare even though only a minority are Muslim in order to save from having to buy two types of meat. And it’s been reported that meat packers have sold unlabelled halal meat or poultry to the general public.

It can save producers money to simply make all their meat halal even if only some of it is labelled as such and marketed to Muslims.

Olymel, a major Canadian poultry and pork company based in Saint-Hyachinthe, has had its poultry plant in Saint-Damase, Que, certified halal. The chickens are desensitized with an electric shock and then “mechanically” bled, said spokesperson Richard Vigneault. Save for the religious prayer, the process is the same in the company’s other plants, he said.

Olymel sells the fresh chicken to distributors, some of which label the meat as halal, some of which do not, Vigneault explained.

“It’s the same chicken, the same quality, the same meat,” he maintained.
— Torstar News Service