Islamophobia in Canada: Measuring the Realities of Negative Attitudes toward Muslims and Religious Discrimination

By Wilkins-Laflamme, Sarah | Canadian Review of Sociology, February 2018 | Go to article overview

Islamophobia in Canada: Measuring the Realities of Negative Attitudes toward Muslims and Religious Discrimination


Wilkins-Laflamme, Sarah, Canadian Review of Sociology


EVENTS IN 2017, SUCH as the Quebec City mosque shootings, the subsequent anti-Islamophobia M-103 motion tabled and passed in the House of Commons by the federal Liberals, Bill 62 on face coverings adopted by the Quebec provincial government, and continued anti-Muslim discourse from south of the border, from far-right groups as well as from some candidates in the federal Conservative Party leadership race once again highlighted the existence of prejudice against Muslims in Canada, an issue plaguing societies across North America and Europe. Those adhering to the Islamic faith seem to be the most feared and targeted in Western societies, more so than any other immigrant group (Strabac and Listhaug 2008). Scholars in the social sciences began paying attention notably with the spike of islamophobic incidents post 9/11 (Allen and Nielsen 2002; Hanniman 2008; Helly 2004; Sheridan and Gillet 2005), but prejudice against Muslims in the West began long before the 2001 terror attacks (Conway 1997; Gerges 1997; Halliday 1999; Poynting and Mason 2007), and by no means has it disappeared since. Islamophobia may be as strong as ever in recent years with high-profile events continuing to feed this type of fear, such as the continued terror attacks in Western societies carried out by Islamic extremist groups, the war on ISIS, as well as the influx of Muslims arriving in Europe and North America due to the Syrian refugee crisis.

This being said, although there has been much recent discussion surrounding the issue of Islamophobia in Canada, little good-quality empirical data has been systematically analyzed regarding the everyday realities of this phenomenon. The aim of this study is to measure the extent to which negative feelings toward Muslims are present among the general adult population; and the extent to which Muslim Canadians themselves say they have experienced discrimination in recent years due to their religion, ethnicity, and culture. With data from the 2011 Canadian Election Study (CES) and the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on victimization, Islamophobia will thus be examined from two different viewpoints: attitudes among the general population as well as experiences among Muslims themselves. In so doing, this study begins to measure the empirical realities of a phenomenon some claim does not exist, and others say is rampant in our society.

CONTEXT

Muslim Canadians

The Muslim population in Canada has been growing since the 1990s, due notably to influxes from immigration. Statistics Canada's 2014 GSS data put the estimate of those identifying Islam as their religion at 3 percent of the adult population across the 10 provinces. As the results show in Figure 1, GSS estimates of the size of the adult Muslim population are generally just below those from the larger Census (1991 and 2001) and National Household Survey (2011 NHS). (1) Looking at regional variations in the size of the adult and child Muslim population in Figure 2, Ontario has the largest proportion at 4.6 percent in 2011, and the Northern Territories the smallest at 0.4 percent.

In 2011, an estimated 72 percent of individuals identifying Islam as their religion in Canada were born outside the country (compared to 20 percent in the rest of the population): the main regions of origin among these immigrants being Northern and Eastern Africa, West Central Asia, and the Middle East as well as India, Pakistan, and South Asia. A majority of Canadian Muslims live in large urban centers, with 62 percent of Muslims in 2011 residing in the metropolitan areas of Toronto and Montreal alone. On average, the Muslim population is younger, better educated, and has more members identifying as visible minorities: an estimated 60 percent of Canadian Muslims are under 35 years of age (compared to 43 percent among the rest of the Canadian population); an estimated 35 percent of adult Muslim Canadians have a university degree (compared to 20 percent among the rest of the population); and 88 percent of Muslim Canadians identify as visible minorities (compared to 17 percent among the rest of the population). …

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