Quebec law prohibits government employees from wearing religious symbols while at work
The Association for Canadian Studies (ACS) has recently released a research report exploring the impact of Quebec’s Law 21 on several religious minorities across the province.
In June 2019, the Quebec government passed Law 21 to prohibit government employees in positions of authority, including police officers, prison guards, lawyers, judges, and classroom teachers, from wearing visible religious symbols while at work.
“Law 21: Discourse, Perceptions & Impacts” examines the perceptions and experiences of the Muslim, Jewish, and Sikh communities in Quebec for the past three years since Law 21 took effect. The report also provides insight into Quebecers’ views of religions and what motivates support for and opposition to Law 21.
The results were based on a series of survey conducted among 1,828 Quebecers, including 632 Muslims, 165 Jews and 56 Sikhs, between April and June. The report was authored by Miriam Taylor, ACS publications and partnerships director.
The report revealed that “neutrality” is one of the most central values associated with Law 21. While Law 21 claims to place all religions on the same footing, the report showed that Quebecers have relatively little contact with members of non-Christian religious groups and their perceptions of these religions, their followers, and respective symbols rise in increasing order of negativity from Christianity to Judaism to Sikhism to Islam.
“Negative opinions of the turban (52.1 percent), Islam (54.1 percent), and the hijab (57 percent) reach above the 50 percent mark,” Taylor wrote. “This hierarchy of negativity is amplified among strong supporters of Law 21, increasing more than 20 percent in the case of the turban (75.7 percent), Islam (75 percent), and the hijab (78.1 percent).”
Moreover, the report showed that the prevalent negativity toward non-Christian religious symbols that drives support for Law 21 is directly reflected in experiences and testimonies of religious community members whose practices the Law 21 restricts.
“Muslim, Jewish, and Sikh respondents describe being exposed in their daily lives to attitudes and behaviours that directly impact their sense of acceptance and safety, civic engagement and sense of fulfillment, well-being and hope,” Taylor wrote. “The waning of hope for the next generation is especially striking in all three communities.”
While Law 21 has been publicized as a legislation that protects gender equality, the report showed that Quebec women are “less supportive” of Law 21 than are men. In addition, they are more “cognizant” of Law 21’s potential to discriminate against other women.
“This evidence of sisterly solidarity is noteworthy in the context of survey findings that identify Muslim women as among the groups most severely impacted by stigmatization (53 percent), injustice (47.2 percent), and marginalization (decline of 78.4 percent),” Taylor wrote. “In addition, women in all three religious minority communities reported more important declines in their levels of safety and freedom of expression than their male counterparts.”
The report also noted that 64.5 percent of the respondents deemed it important for the Supreme Court of Canada to determine whether Law 21 is discriminatory. And if the courts were to declare Law 21 in violation of Charter rights, support for its enforcement would drop by 18 percent to below the majority mark − from 63.7 to 47 percent.
“Indeed, study findings highlight the importance of the counterbalancing role played by the courts in ensuring the respect of fundamental Charter rights,” Taylor wrote.