More than a quarter of Canadians believe that over the past five years, it’s become “more acceptable” to be prejudiced against Muslims, according to an exclusive poll by Ipsos for Global News.
The polling seems to correlate with an increase in hate crimes targeting Muslims living in the country.
All of the Ipsos poll data is available online.
In 2017, hate crimes targeting Muslims jumped 151 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. The biggest increases were seen in Ontario and Quebec — police-reported hate crimes increased by 207 per cent in Ontario and 185 per cent in Quebec.
So what, exactly, is causing a spark in discrimination towards Muslims?
Barbara Perry, a hate crimes expert at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, said Islamophobia has always been present in Canada, but over the last few years, it’s been “exacerbated.”
She added that there are many factors at play, but one of them is the “Trump effect.”
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A number of experts have linked the rise in hate crimes against Muslims to U.S. President Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric during his 2016 presidential election and after he was elected to the White House in 2017.
Trump’s promises to ban Muslims from the U.S. and build a wall to keep out Mexicans have been championed by many far-right groups in Canada.
“Social media borders are poor, and this contributes to a spike of online hate,” Perry said. “Trump has contributed to this. The last U.S. election affected us, and the next one will also affect us.”
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For example, in January 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette attacked worshippers at a Quebec City mosque, killing six Muslim men. Before the attack, the shooter obsessively followed the Twitter postings of Trump, with a particular interest in his Muslim travel ban.
Ipsos vice-president Sean Simpson said that Trump’s anti-Muslim views have leaked into Canada and that the polls reflect that.
“I think, certainly, having a president like Donald Trump, who seems to say anything on his mind at a whim, gives people … more licence to do the same,” Simpson said.
“There’s a growing movement in the United States, and some of it has a trickle effect here in Canada …. that it’s OK to say things that maybe we were worried about saying before,” he said.
He said the lack of political correctness can be seen in Canada’s current climate. Take, for example, Maxime Bernier, whose anti-immigrant rhetoric echos that of Trump’s.
Bernier, the leader of the People’s Party of Canada, came under fire last year for saying that “more diversity will not be our strength, it will destroy what has made us a great country.”
Simpson said politicians like Bernier and Trump are “saying things that people, up until now, had maybe been reluctant to say out loud, even if they thought it,” adding to people’s prejudice against minorities.
Perry said Bernier is not the only Canadian politician to exacerbate anti-Muslim rhetoric.
During Stephen Harper’s 2015 re-election campaign, he ratcheted up the rhetoric against the niqab, calling it “offensive” for someone to wear it while taking the oath of Canadian citizenship.
And in 2011, then-prime minister Harper said “Islamicism” posed the greatest threat to Canada’s national security.
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Perry said that although anti-Muslim rhetoric has always been in Canada, it has increased since 2017 in the form of hate crimes and a spike in organized white nationalist groups across the country.
In 2015, police across the country recorded 159 hate crimes targeted at Muslims, up from 45 in 2012, representing an increase of 253 per cent.
Perry said that in 2015, there were about 100 active hate groups in Canada; now, there are an estimated 200 to 300 groups.
She said there is a “new” obsession with far-right groups and politicians to slam Islam and immigration.
Perry worries that the anti-Muslim rhetoric will also creep into the 2019 federal election as many hate groups are normalizing the topic.
“Extreme right groups glom onto these tropes and really pressure right-leaning parties to bend to their will,” she said.
Perry added that although Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric can be linked to a rise in online hate, it does not give the full story.
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“There are many factors at play,” she said, adding that Quebec’s Bill 21, a controversial proposed law dubbed the “religious neutrality bill,” has fuelled discrimination toward Muslims in the province.
The proposed legislation would forbid public-sector employees in positions of authority — including teachers, police officers and judges — from wearing religious symbols.
In October 2017, the province also passed Bill 62, which required public services to be given and received with an uncovered face. That law is being challenged in court on the grounds that it discriminates against women wearing the niqab or burqa.
The law has been condemned by politicians and advocates, who say it directly discriminates against Muslim women. However, former Quebec premier Philippe Couillard has defended the legislation, saying it’s necessary for communication, identification and security reasons.
Perry and Simpson both agree that despite the discrimination more Canadians may be expressing toward Muslim people, it is still only a minority of people.
“More people believe it is less acceptable to be prejudiced against these groups so if we have one-quarter, for example, who think it’s more acceptable to be prejudiced towards Muslims and Arabs, in general, they are outweighed significantly by the proportion who believe it’s becoming less acceptable,” Simpson said.
Methodology: These are the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of Global news between April 8 and 10, 2019. For this survey, a sample of 1,002 Canadians from the Ipsos I-Say panel was interviewed. The precision of online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the results are accurate to within +/- 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what the results would have been had all Canadian adults been polled. The credibility intervals are wider among subsets of the population.
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.