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Anti-Muslim sentiment higher in Quebec than rest of Canada, study finds

But across the country, Canadians harbour more negative attitudes toward Muslims than other groups

March 22, 2018

The study found 70 per cent of respondents in Quebec expressed "significant" anti-Muslim sentiment. Anti-racism activists in the province have struggled to make it the topic of mainstream debate. (Emily Brass/CBC)

Even though Quebec politicians routinely claim otherwise, a recent study suggests Islamophobia is widespread in the province and more prevalent here than elsewhere in Canada.

The study, published in the current issue of the Canadian Review of Sociology, also found that Muslims were the social group that, across the country, Canadians liked the least.

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Whites, Catholics, Indigenous people, racial minorities and members of the LGBT community all received higher average scores than Muslims when Canadians were asked to assign a score between zero and 100 to their feelings about these groups.

Muslims received the lowest average score, 56, in Quebec. The next lowest was 67, in the Prairies. British Columbians had the most favourable view of Muslims, with an average score of 77.

More representative than polling

The scores were culled from a "feelings thermometer scale" that was included in the 2011 Canadian Election Survey, which had close to 3,500 respondents.

In order to get a more precise measure of Islamophobia, the study's author — Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme of the University of Waterloo — compared people's feelings about Muslims with their feelings toward other minority and majority groups.

To do so, Wilkins-Laflamme, a sociology professor, subtracted the Muslim score from the white score and from scores about other racial minorities. Larger negative values would highlight anti-Muslim sentiment.

Here again Quebec stood out. The study found 70 per cent of respondents in the province expressed "significant" anti-Muslim sentiment, that is, a negative gap of five points or more between feelings toward Muslims and whites. 

In addition, 57 per cent of Quebec respondents had significantly more negative attitudes toward Muslims than other racial minorities.

Respondents were asked to assign a score to their feelings about various social groups, 0 being the lowest and 100 the highest. (Submitted by Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme)

Only 34 per cent of British Columbians had significant negative attitudes toward Muslims when compared to whites, and 28 per cent when compared to other racial minorities.

The study's conclusions about anti-Muslim sentiment in Quebec align with findings from several recent opinion polls. For example, a 2017 CROP study suggested 34 per cent of Quebecers agreed that Muslim immigrants should outright be banned, compared with 23 per cent in the rest of Canada.

But Wilkins-Laflamme's study stands out for a number of reasons. One, it relies on a much larger sample size than most opinion polls, and draws from data collected by Statistics Canada, making the findings more robust. 

And, two, despite using data that is several years old, it is among the few academic studies to offer a large-scale examinations of Islamophobia in Canada. 

Quebec's Islamophobia taboo

The findings also challenge the tendency of Quebec's political leaders to downplay Islamophobia in the province. 

Most recently, debate flared over whether to turn the anniversary of the Quebec City mosque shooting — Jan. 29 — into a day of action against Islamophobia.

The Liberals, the Parti Québécois and the Coalition Avenir Québec were all opposed to the idea, which had the backing of Muslim community leaders.

"Quebecers are open and welcoming. They're not Islamophobic," Samuel Poulin, a spokesperson for the CAQ, said at the time.

Efforts by anti-racism activists to discuss Islamophobia are often treated by conservative pundits as smear campaigns against the whole province.

That perception helped kill a proposed province-wide consultation on systemic racism. 

None of Quebec's biggest political parties supported the idea of turning the anniversary of the Quebec mosque shooting, during which six Muslims were killed, into a day against Islamophobia. ( THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)

"I get really angry when I hear people say [Islamophobia] not a thing or doesn't exist," said Wilkins-Laflamme. "If you define it as prejudice and hostility toward Muslims, I've got good quality survey data that says it's there."

But she also noted that anti-Muslim sentiment was present at significant levels across the country. And she added a dimension to the study that examined whether Islamophobic attitudes corresponded with Muslims themselves experiencing discrimination.

Using victimization data that Statistics Canada released in 2014, Wilkins-Laflamme found 21.8 per cent of Quebec Muslims reported experiencing discrimination.

That was lower than Atlantic Canada (35.4 per cent) and slightly higher than Ontario, where the rate was lowest at 17.8 per cent. 

"That was the finding that surprised me the most," she said. 

"I was expecting these negative feelings that we see large chunks of the Quebec population holding toward Muslims would translate into more Muslims living in Quebec saying they experience discrimination due to their religion. But in fact it's a very similar rate to other provinces in Canada."

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