Some Muslim and Jewish students reported experiencing discrimination since the passage of Quebec’s secularism law, according to a new study by two Concordia researchers.
The study attempted to examine the impact of Bill 21 — the secularism law passed in 2019 that bans certain public servants like teachers, police officers and judges from wearing religious symbols.
Surprisingly, even members of minority groups who don’t wear religious symbols said they felt more discrimination in the wake of the law’s passage.
The findings — based on online, bilingual surveys sent to students and recent graduates in education and law — show that among Muslims who wear religious symbols, 76 per cent said they experienced discrimination since the law was passed. Among Jewish respondents who wore religious garb, 56.5 per cent experienced discrimination.
“This is one of the first studies that shows the real-time impact on real people and we think the CAQ government needs to pay attention to it and understand that people are feeling discriminated against in the wake of the passage of this law,” he said Kimberley Manning, one of the researchers.
Bill 21 was sold to the public by the CAQ government as a way to create social peace and settle the issue of religious symbols, but the study shows it has had the opposite effect, Manning said.
“It hasn’t settled the matter, but it has instead exacerbated the divisiveness and likely the discrimination as well,” Manning said. “In the written comments we have received, we’ve seen a huge increase in discrimination. They may not be wearing a religious symbol themselves, but be perceived as part of a community in which symbols are worn.”
Manning said the law appears to have emboldened people to be more discriminatory. Furthermore, some people seem to be confused about the law and how it applies to people wearing religious symbols. One respondent reported that she heard an 11-year-old girl told she could not wear a hijab because it’s against the law, which is not the case.
“That’s the way racism works, unfortunately,” she said. “You’re guilty by association, and this law gives license to that.”
The study also showed that people from minority communities are reconsidering their futures in the province because of the law, and not just those who wear religious symbols.
Many, particularly students in education, said they will refuse to work in Quebec as a result of the law, and overall, 70 per cent of respondents had a more negative perception of Quebec since the passage of the law.
“Somebody whose mother wears a hijab said in the comments that they couldn’t stay in Quebec because it no longer felt safe for their mother,” Manning said. (We also hear from) education students who don’t wear religious symbols but are deeply uncomfortable (with the law).”
She added that the findings show that the law is affecting the province’s efforts to recruit new teachers while there is a shortage of such professionals.
Manning warned against drawing too many broad conclusions from her research, as the sample size is small, with just 629 respondents. However, she hopes this is just the beginning of studies that examine the effects of this law. If those studies show that the law is creating more divisions, rather than unifying the population, it would be worth re-examining its utility, she said.
“If, in fact, young people are experiencing increased discrimination in the classroom and their social lives because the law has given license to people to be discriminatory and racist, then that would be a reason to rethink (the law),” Manning said.
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