I have written before about Quebec’s Bill 21 which legalizes discrimination against religious minorities. (If you’re unfamiliar with the law, it bars people with visible religious garments – hijabs, turbans, kippahs – from working for the government. For example, you cannot be a teacher, nurse, or police officer.) The law, which is textbook discrimination, has no parallel anywhere in North America. Now a new study shows how profoundly the law has affected religious minorities’ sense of safety and belonging in their home province. While I have addressed the bill before, the article linked to above has valuable insights worth pondering. Below, I share a few.

Photo credit: Canva.com

Leaders Set the Tone

The survey shows that while Islamophobia is not new in Quebec (nor in Canada), encasing such sentiments in law has had a dramatically negative impact on Quebec’s religious minorities. Amongst Muslim women, fully 78% feel less accepted since the law was passed, 73% feel less safe, and 83% report less confidence about their children’s future. Those are high numbers! They show what happens when leaders legitimize prejudice.

Photo credit: Darron Birgenheier, Wikipedia.org, Creative Commons License

These results echo a new American study showing that during Trump’s presidency, his followers developed stronger prejudices, buoyed by his public examples of denigrating women and minorities. In short, both studies show the depth of influence leaders have over our culture and the ways we see and treat one another.

Here is a lesson for us all. We all occupy leadership roles – as parents, teachers, coaches, or managers. The tone we set matters and by demonstrating inclusion, we can set an example that will influence others’ behaviour and nurture respect and dignity.

Based on Fear of the Unknown

The researcher shared that Quebeckers acknowledge that they have “very little contact with religious minorities.” This is unsurprising.

We humans often fear what we don’t know. For this reason, our founder, JW Windland, created Encounter, inviting people to visit new communities, meet leaders, share food and conversation. He wanted to facilitate connections and relationships that change people.

We fear the unknown. Connection dispels fear.

The Other can be quite scary to us…until you know their name. Until it’s Muneeb. Or Nouman. Or Ya’el. By increasing our own religious literacy, we remove barriers to connect and form relationships with neighbours, colleagues and classmates who may differ from us. When this happens, our brains calm down, and fear subsides.

Dividing Society

Premier Legault argued the bill would integrate minorities, thus creating a unified society. But in the article, Quebeckers themselves say the law is divisive. Stigmatizing a minority and forbidding them from holding certain positions is always divisive – it creates an Us and a Them.


Photo credit: Canva.com

Helping Women?

The bill’s defenders often claim it defends women’s rights. (The bill bans all religious garments but anti-hijab passions drove the political discussion.) However, the survey shows that Muslim women feel the most targeted by the bill and report the least sense of safety, belonging and optimism. This is hardly surprising as throughout Canada, they are prime targets of hate crimes. Typically, men are targeted more in hate crimes but amongst Muslims, women are disproportionately victimized and sadly, the study reports  two thirds of Muslim women say they’ve been a victim of and/or a witness to a hate crime.

In reality, Quebec’s women are less supportive of the bill and the least supportive demographic are young women who have been raised in a more feminist world but who are also more likely to have diverse classmates and co-workers.

Does Oppression Breed Oppression?

Near the end, the researcher laments that Francophone Quebeckers know about feeling one’s identity is marginalized and, yet, here it has not led to empathy with the minorities in their midst.

Photo credit: Canva.com

Regrettably, this is not uncommon. A recent Globe and Mail article noted that South Africa, having thrown off apartheid, now exhibits terrible xenophobia targeting Asians and even other Africans from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, etc. It reminded me how some African American empowerment movements have, at times, been harshly patriarchal or how fourth century Christians went from being freed of persecution to shortly thereafter becoming persecutors.

The Way Forward

In short, xenophobia is a constant threat. But this need not be destiny. Leaders like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King show us a different path towards a more inclusive and just society. However, we need not wait for heroes. We can, in our own lives, demonstrate inclusiveness and find ways to connect with those around us who we know less well. We need to get to know one another at work, at school, and at play.

Quebec’s Bill 21 is less popular with the young. The new generations are more familiar with people who differ from them. This can be Canada’s future…if we do our part to bring it about.

Photo credit: Canva.com

Subscribe To My Newsletter



    1. Herb Koplowitz January 30, 2024 at 1:26 pm - Reply

      I cannot express how grateful I am for your referring to what the bill forbids servants from wearing as “visible religious garments “. The bill is elsewhere always described as forbidding the wearing of “religious symbols”, even by those who oppose it. This label poses the bill as simply preventing the wearing of a cross or a star around one’s neck. But the hijab, yarmulka and turban are not symbols of religion; rather, wearing them is the practice of religion itself. The bill does not prevent public servants from symbolizing their religion but from practicing their religion. Calling the hijab, turban or yarmulka a “religious symbol” is like referring to a swim suit as a “symbol of modesty” when wearing a swim suit is actually the practice of modesty. (I prefer not to wear one, but I don’t expect people who wear them would consider their swimsuit to be a “symbol” of their modesty.)
      Because of your descriptive wording Orwell is spinning a little slower in his grave.

      • Brian Carwana January 31, 2024 at 8:36 pm - Reply

        Herb – thanks for this thoughtful comment. You put it perfectly.

    Leave A Comment