Canadians divided when it comes to immigration, poll suggests

A new CROP poll done for Radio-Canada suggests that while Canadians feel we should help immigrants and refugees, we feel threatened by religion, especially by Islam.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Syrian refugees at Pearson airport in Toronto back in December. A new CROP poll found a majority of Canadians were fine with Canada welcoming Syrian refugees into this country, but that we are divided on other subjects surrounding immigration. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

A new CROP poll commissioned by CBC's French-languge service, Radio-Canada, suggests that while Canadians generally have a humanitarian view toward immigration, those attitudes harden when religion is thrown in.

The internet poll surveyed 2,513 people across Canada, including 1,024 Quebecers, about a variety of issues affecting the country.

The results suggest that Canadians recognize how important it is to help people in need, and we believe that immigrants contribute to our economy, said CROP president Alain Giguère.

About 60 per cent of Canadians see refugees as a positive force, and 83 per cent believe other cultures enrich our society, the poll's findings show.

But when asked whether immigrants should be screened with a test on Canadian values, as suggested by Conservative party leadership candidate Kellie Leitch, 74 per cent of respondents said they would either be "very" or "somewhat" in favour of that idea.

Giguère said the results tap into the feeling of that immigrants pose a threat, especially those who are Muslim.

"If you don't talk about religion, there's an overwhelming human side to us.… The minute you introduce religion, it's gone," he said.

Haroun Bouazzi, co-president of Muslim and Arabs for a Secular Quebec, said the results of the poll aren't astonishing.

Politicians like Leitch play on the fear of immigration to sidestep other issues, said Bouazzi.

"We have all these problems, and our politicians don't have simple solutions," Bouazzi said. "Even the ones in power right now don't have solutions, so over the past years, a good way of making us talk about other things is actually finding a scapegoat — finding a group that we can make look like a real problem."

"And obviously the Muslim minority, specifically, play[s] this role."

Role of identity issues in Quebec

That sense that Muslims pose a threat holds right across Canada, although it's slightly higher in Quebec, the CROP poll found.

 For example, when asked about a Donald Trump-style ban on Muslims immigrating to Canada, 25 per cent of Canadians were "strongly" or "somewhat" in favour of such a ban, versus 32 per cent of Quebecers.

In the weeks after the deadly Quebec City mosque shooting, respondents were asked if they would be bothered if events like that attack discouraged Muslims from immigrating here, and nearly half said no.

And in Quebec, while 65 per cent of people would be OK with a new Catholic church in their neighbourhood, only 40 per cent feel the same way about a mosque. In the rest of Canada, those numbers are 76 and 56 per cent, respectively.
More Canadians would be OK with a new church in their neighbourhood than they would with a new mosque. (Anne-Louise Despatie/Radio-Canada)

Giguère said Quebec has its own special set of identity issues, fuelled by recent history — the fight to keep the French language and the struggle to wrest itself from the control of the Catholic church.

That has led to a perception that Quebecers have a lot at stake when it comes to protecting their heritage, he said.

Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée said that while the poll results across Canada and Quebec are similar, Quebec is often perceived as more intolerant toward immigrants than other parts of Canada.

"The numbers between English Canada and Quebec are very similar," said Lisée.

"So when we constantly put Quebec on trial, it's deeply unjust because Quebec, in my opinion, is within the Canadian average and above average in the Western world right now when it comes to tolerating immigration. Several studies have shown that over the past few years."

Room for populist leader

Giguère said the results show Canada is a divided country and that there are segments of the population that feel left out and unrepresented in the political sphere.

In many countries, including in the U.S., people who feel that way have found someone to represent them in Trump. Giguère said the poll results show a populist, Trump-style politician could find a following in this country. 

"In Canada, we haven't found it yet but there's room for that," Giguère said. "Someone will come one day, that's for sure."

However, it doesn't appear that's what we want, at least when asked the question directly. Only 21 per cent of respondents said they would want Canada to have a Trump-style politician.

CROP's other findings:

  • More people in Quebec (62 per cent versus 48 per cent in the rest of Canada) perceive the Muslim veil, or hijab, to be a sign of submission.
  • Sixty per cent of Canadians (and 58 per cent of Quebecers) believe welcoming Syrian refugees was a "very good" or "good enough" idea.
  • When asked whether immigrants of different races and ethnic backgrounds should eschew their culture for Canadian culture, 67 per cent of Quebecers were "completely" or "somewhat" in favour. Sixty per cent of respondents in the rest of Canada felt the same.
  • Fifty-seven per cent of Quebecers feel as if Muslims are "poorly" or "somewhat poorly" integrated into society, versus 47 per cent of respondents in the rest of Canada.

With files from Radio-Canada