Calgarians’ Perceptions of Discrimination Amongst Minorities in Canada Following Bill 21

Opinion Editorial

Calgarians’ Perceptions of Discrimination Amongst Minorities in Canada Following the Inception of Bill 21

“I-CARE Task Force sincerely appreciates and thanks Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Councillor Chahal and our Calgary council for unanimously voting to condemn Quebec’s ‘regressive’ Bill 21 on Sep 30th, 2019. We call out to Conservative leader Erin O’Toole to publicly reject the Bill 21 as well and show solidarity with religious minorities as other federal leaders have done”, said Dr. Zaidi, Secretary I-CARE.

With 1 in 5 Canadians being foreign-born, Canada stands its ground as one of the most diverse countries on the globe and Bill 21 threatens this diversity. Dr Mukarram Zaidi, chairman of Think for Actions, summarizes Bill 21 as “a new form of legalized discrimination, taking us back to slavery and colonial times.”

On March 28th, 2019 a major change was put forward to the Quebec legislature resulting in a proposed bill: Bill 21. The bill proposed prohibiting the wearing of religious symbols while working and performing duties in the public sector. Think for Actions, a Calgary based national non-profit organization conducted a study measuring perceptions of discrimination amongst minorities in Canada through an Albertan perspective on Bill 21. Overall, the bill was met with resentment from a majority of respondents. Most remarkable was the similarity of responses from people of all ages, different ethnic backgrounds and religious orientations.

Hate crimes targeting Canadian Muslims increased by 151% in 2017. Data released by Statistics Canada on November 18th, 2018 indicated a significant increase in hate crimes against most ethnic, religious, (and other) minority groups. The current xenophobic environment created by targeting religious minorities by Bill 21 makes the situation even bleaker. As one interviewee mentioned “In addition to not serving the purpose of secularism it is also a fact that this bill is institutionalizing racism and giving a legitimate meaning for the government to impose a certain bill, this is hurting Quebec society and Canadians as a whole”. Dr Zaidi further reiterates: “Bill 21 disproportionately affects people of color and creates second class citizens for practicing Muslims, Sikhs, Jews and Christians. It’s unbelievable in this day and age that someone would tell people what symbols and garments they are permitted to wear”.

This bill has negatively impacted people’s perception of individuality as another interviewee mentioned, “The bill makes your life unlovable and intolerable, it makes you feel valueless and it makes you feel unwanted and it definitely affects us on a personal, psychological and emotional level, it does.” People residing in Quebec are faced with a difficult decision-having to choose between their religious identity and the place they call their home. Although currently Bill 21 has been passed in Quebec, many interviewees had concerns about what this means for the rest of Canada, particularly in the face of rising ethno-racism.

Many Canadians are concerned about Bill 21, they are alarmed for their future as the bill attacks individuality and diversity in the face of secularism. Minorities in Canada already face an unprecedented amount of discrimination, this bill further adds to such sentiments. In order to combat this and preserve Canada’s diversity, lawmakers and people must fight the bill and eventually defeat it in order to protect a basic right, the right to freely practice religion, a core aspect of Canada’s melting pot culture. Despite uncertainty with regards to the future of minorities in Canada, Canadians remain hopeful that Bill 21 will not be the new norm and will continue to be challenged to help maintain an inclusive Canada.

For further information and comments please contact:

Dr. Shirley R Steinberg, Ph.D.,
Research Professor,
Werklund School of Education, The University of Calgary

Dr. Mukarram Zaidi, MBBS, CUS, MSc, MD, CPHRM, MCFP.,

I-CARE Taskforce: More than 50 faith groups and community organizations are coming together to form The Task Force to fight hate, racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianophobia, Xenophobia, Colonialism and Homophobia impact every person regardless of their faith, colour, or gender.