La Presse

In Canada And France, Hijabs In Advertising Spark Outrage

Target audience
Target audience
Jane Gatensby

MONTREAL — The video lasted just seven seconds, but it was enough to unleash a fury of online outrage. "They could have chosen anyone else to make an ad," one Facebook user wrote. "Things start to stink a hell of a lot when governments and big companies push the neighbor's religion on us …"

The source of the fury? An August 9 promotional video from the Canadian branch of retail chain The Home Depot featuring an orange-aproned employee wearing a hijab, ostensibly an example of the promotion of a diverse and well-trained work force. "Our specialized training programs and unlimited opportunities for advancement helped Sehrish go from cashier to talent acquisition specialist," declares the retailer.

In the days that followed, Francophone users of social media took to their keyboards to express their discontent. "Why do they always show someone with a tablecloth on their head?" one woman wrote. "They're expletive hypocrites and slaves, obedient to their masters, to make an ad for Muslims," another raged. Other Facebook users said they would boycott the store.


A Canadian journalist denounces the "violent" reactions to Home Depot's video — S​creenshot: Twitter

Speaking to Montreal-based La Presse news website, Sociology professor Rachad Antonius acknowledged that such reactions are "clearly a racist, Islamophobic reaction," yet cautioned that it was limited to a small but vocal minority, and no public figures were involved. For its part, The Home Depot didn't take the video down, and decided not to comment on the backlash it provoked, releasing the following *statement: "Home Depot is proud of the diversity of its workforce, and the objective of this advertisement is the demonstrate the unlimited possibilities for advancement that the company offers."

Hijabs are banned in public primary and secondary schools in France.

Across the Atlantic, however, a similar uproar extended well beyond social media comment sections. After a Gap clothing store ad in July featured a hijab-wearing schoolgirl, several national politicians in France voiced their anger. Le Figaro reports that Anne-Christine Lang, a member of Parliament from President Emmanuel Macron's La République En Marche party, took to Twitter to say: "I will never accept seeing little girls veiled. I'll never shop at Gap again. #BoycottGap." She was joined by center-right party Les Républicains spokesperson Lydia Guirous, who tweeted: "Gap continues its submission to Islamism with posters of little girls wearing veils. On many occasions, I have denounced the growing occurrence of veils being imposed on little girls, which is a form of abuse and goes against our values of equality, liberty and laïcité (secularism)!"

From the new Gap ad campaign

An online petition for Gap Europe to dissociate itself from the campaign, which features students from a public school in New York, collected 7,500 signatures. Hijabs are banned in public primary and secondary schools in France.

Back in Quebec, where schoolgirls are free to wear headscarves, the issue of Muslim head covering is nonetheless far from apolitical. In October, the province's ruling Liberal party passed a religious neutrality law barring persons wearing a full-face veil from receiving public services, although this provision has since been suspended by the courts. The province's main opposition parties have criticized the law for lacking force and clarity, with the Parti Québecois promising to "go much further" on the issue of laïcité.

*The article has been updated to include the statement released by Home Depot when contacted by La Presse.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!