A major survey by Léger and the Association for Canadian Studies on the impact of Bill 21 should give us food for thought.
Ever since François Legault introduced this law, Quebecers have been divided as to its necessity or even its validity.
It embodies the desire to guarantee the religious neutrality of the state for some and an unjustified restriction of religious freedom for others.
The fact is that, even if there are similar laws in some European countries, Quebec is the only jurisdiction in North America that codifies discrimination in this way.
It is precisely here that adherents of minority religions are excluded from certain key tasks if they openly declare their membership through external signs.
The list is longer, but we are talking specifically about police officers, prosecutors and prison guards, as recommended in the Bouchard Taylor report.
Furthermore, the CAQ insisted on including teachers in its law, adding a layer to what Bouchard and Taylor felt was tolerable in a society that respected the rights of minorities.
However, Léger’s survey clearly shows that this issue is far from resolved.
More open attitude of youth
One of the things that will strike you as you read this report is the gap that separates young people from their elderly.
That’s a fundamental difference that I’ve observed while working at the University of Montreal for the past four years.
While a majority of older men support the restrictions of Bill 21, young people, particularly women aged 18-24, are overwhelmingly opposed.
This statistic is interesting because it tends to show more tolerance on the part of those who have evolved in a society that is more open to diversity.
Conversely, those who have never known other religions are most likely to carry these prejudices within themselves.
Effects of Discrimination
The study also clearly shows that Muslims in general, and Muslim women in particular, are feeling the effects of this discrimination in their daily lives.
The study even decodes a hierarchy of discrimination: practicing Muslims and Sikhs are those whose religious symbols are least tolerated.
A high proportion of them say they have witnessed or been victims of discrimination and are afraid.
This part of the study is alarming and saddening to read.
I spoke to a woman whose headscarf was taken off by young people on the bus and who said to her: “You no longer have any rights”…
When dealing with rights, sometimes the subtleties get out of hand.
The message some are getting is that being intolerant is tolerable and then something essential is lost in our society.
François Legault has maintained for ages that a large majority of the population supports Bill 21.
This important study shows that there are many more opponents than the CAQ seems to believe.
The upcoming election campaign will undoubtedly include debates on this vital issue that continues to divide.