Are Muslims Discriminated against in Canada since September 2001?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT/RESUME

Following the terrorist acts in the United States in September 2001, hostility toward Muslims increased in North America and Europe. This article describes the different forms of discrimination experienced by Muslims in Canada inasmuch as the data gathered during and before the last two years allow it. (1) It also attempts to describe the main factors underlying the hostility toward Muslims and how these factors could be peculiar to Canadian society, where the government proclaims itself the only multicultural state in the West and one that is very respectful of immigrants' and cultural minorities' rights.

A la suite des attentats terroristes aux Etats-Unis en septembre 2001, les actes hostiles se sont multiplies a l'egard des personnes de confession musulmane dans les societes occidentales. Cet article retrace les diverses formes de discrimination subies par les musulmans au Canada autant que le permettent les donnees compilees avant et apres les evenements de septembre 2001. Il tente aussi de reperer les fondements de cette discrimination qui s'avereraient propres au Canada, un pays dont l'Etat se proclame le seul Etat multiculturel au monde et parmi les plus respectueux des droits des immigres et de leurs descendants.

INTRODUCTION

According to the Multiculturalism Act (1988), "The Government of Canada recognizes the diversity of Canadians as regards race, national or ethnic origin, colour and religion as a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society and is committed to a policy of multiculturalism." Discrimination against Muslims is, therefore, a subject of national interest, particularly since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Islam is a new phenomenon in Canada. It first became part of the public debates during the 1990s. In 1994, students wearing the hijab (a traditional headscarf) were expelled from some schools in Quebec. Since 1996, data have been published showing the growth of the Muslim population. According to 2001 census data, the Muslim population numbered 579,000 persons, growing from 253,000 in 1991. The majority are of Pakistani origin and live in the Toronto area, and Montreal is home to the second largest concentration of Muslims, with a population of 120,000 of mostly Arab origin.

This article has three objectives: to describe the discrimination suffered by Muslims in Canada, to assess any increase in the level of discrimination since September 2001, and to determine the forms it takes and the reasons for this discrimination in Canada. The fulfillment of these objectives requires that definitions of discrimination, including those provided by the Canadian government, be specified.

DISCRIMINATION AND THE RIGHT TO EQUALITY

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982), along with other provincial Charters of Rights and Freedoms, protect fundamental freedoms (of conscience, religion, thought, opinion, expression, peaceful assembly, association, and defense) and basic human rights (to life, security, privacy, dignity, non-harassment, and presumption of innocence). They prohibit discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, sex, age, or mental/physical disability. The right to equality protected by these documents is fourfold: equality before the law, equality in the application of the law, equality of protection afforded by the law, and equal benefit of the law.

The concept of equal benefit of the law counters a formal conception of equality as identical treatment that can, paradoxically, cause serious inequality. It is a Canadian principle that, in order to treat all equally, distinctions may occasionally have to be made (Crepeau 1994). In an unprecedented 1989 judgment, (2) the Supreme Court defined discrimination as a "distinction, whether intentional or not, based on motives related to the personal characteristics of an individual or a group of individuals, which impose on this individual or group burdens, obligations or disadvantages not imposed on others, or prevent or restrict access to the possibilities, benefits and advantages offered to other members of society. …