Canada has had an impeccable reputation as one of the most accepting and friendly countries in the world. They consistently rank among the top ten in the Human Development Index, have one of the highest literacy rates in the world, and are one of the most accepting nations in the world. Canada has built its identity around multiculturalism and allowing an extensive array of freedoms. Religious freedom is one of the paramount reasons many have immigrated to Canada, to avoid persecution for being of a certain faith.
The freedom enjoyed today was not without its problems in the past.
In the 1920s and 1930s, there was rampant religious racism in Canada in the form of Anti-Semitism, a popular idea around that around the world. Jewish Canadians were deemed aliens and not a part of what it meant to be Canadian. (Bélanger, Marianopolis College) They were barred socially and economically, as well denounced by political leaders and the elite.
(Irving, the Canadian Encyclopedia) Many strides have been made since to improve the rights of freedoms of all people in Canada, this has since been documented in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Religious racism is a remnant of a darker past, or is it still prevalent in the twenty first century? What if, in 2015, in Canada, there is still discrimination against a certain faith. This is not a far-fetched conspiracy theory, but the hard truth about Canada today.
Religious racism is still alive and strong and alive in Canada, but is now predominantly against people of the Islamic faith.
From the 1920s to the present day, there has been continuity in the religious racism in Canada, with a change in the subject of this mistreatment, shifting from Jews toward Muslims. The problem and crisis surrounding Muslim extremists and of course terrorism has caused an increase in immigration from predominantly Muslim nations and at the same time, fostered a fear based hostility towards those of Muslim faith.
Islamist extremist violence has been one the main reason that there is heavy discrimination against Muslims. Extremist Muslims militants in the Asia and the Middle East have been heavily covered by mainstream media outlets and is common knowledge throughout Canada. The events that occurred on September 11, 2001 were a tipping point into an all-out war against extremist forces terrorizing the world. Though only a very small percentage of Muslims participate in extremism, propaganda and fear-mongering has caused the public opinion towards Islam to become tainted. This is in stark contrast to why Jewish people were discriminated during the 1920s. They were discriminated for being “aliens” and not being part what it meant to be Canadian at the time. (Keefer, The Canadian Charger) Muslims, however, are being discriminated because of the fear of being killed in a terrorist attack caused by a Muslim. Islamic extremism has shined the spotlight directly on the Islamic faith which is ironic because the Muslim faith does not allow for judgement or violence, therefore the Muslim extremists are violating the faith, yet all the people within it are being discriminated because they share the same faith.
Since 1920 to the present day, there have been dramatic changes in the patterns of immigration from South-Asian and Middle Eastern countries, many of which had strong Muslim populations. In the 1911 Census, 2,342 people of Asiatic origin excluding East Asia lived in Canada. (Dench, Canadian Council for Refugees) By 1951, this number was 12,979, a six hundred percent increase over the span of 40 years, but still only a very small minority in a population of 14,009,429. (Dench, Canadian Council for Refugees) By 1991, there were 1,619,642 people of Middle Eastern and South Asian origin living in Canada. (Dench, Canadian Council for Refugees) In 2014, three percent of the 34,000,000 people living in Canada identify themselves as Muslims. (Index Mundi) As Canada changed it immigration policies throughout the twentieth century, it encouraged immigration from impoverished nations in South Asia and the Middle East, causing the steady increase in the population of the Muslims which represented the predominant religion in the region. Behind Christianity and Atheism, Islam is the third largest religious demographic in Canada. (IndexMundi) In the 1920s and 1930s, Judaism was the most prevalent Abrahamic religion represented in Canada. (Dench, Canadian Council for Refugees)
The Abrahamic religions, theologically, have more in common than differences, however religious racism focuses and targets those differences rather than focusing on the common beliefs. This was one of the reasons that’s Jews were discriminated against, being the minority, and is also one of the reasons that Muslims are discriminated against. Jews represents only one percent of Canada’s population today while Muslims represent three times as much.
Attitudes towards Jews and Muslims have changed heavily since the 1920s in Canada. In the 1920s, Jews were not considered worthy or capable of being Canadian. Many felt that Jews were city dwellers and unfit for the harshness of rural Canada. After World War II, new leaders and fresh ideas put to rest the past beliefs and the creation of Israel helped to reduce Anti Semitism in Canada. (Irving, the Canadian Encyclopedia) Islam has had its reputation tarnished by extremist terrorism both abroad and within Canada. Homegrown terror and the rash of foiled terror plots in Canada has further worsened the situation. In September of 2013, there was an incident in St. Catherines, Ontario of a Muslim girl who was assaulted and attacked with racist and derogatory remarks. “…the trio of girls began by making bigoted remarks. Isn’t it against your religion, one asked, to be out walking alone? Ugly words escalated into pushing, then punching.” (Geddes, Maclean’s) The attack on this girl was unprovoked and unnecessary, and was the result of racism and bigotry. This incident and many other like it are evidence of a very negative attitude towards Muslims, driven by fear. Muslims are now beginning to face what Jewish people faced during the 1920s, incidents of racially charged violence. In a poll done in June of 2008, fifty percent of Canadians had a totally favorable opinion on Muslims, and thirty six percent had a totally unfavourable opinion on Muslims. (Jedwab, 4) The opinion on Jewish people was very different, as seventy-three percent of Canadians have a totally favourable opinion and thirteen percent of people have a totally unfavourable view of Jews. (Jedwab, 5) One third of the population is totally unfavourable towards Muslims, and this is a key statistic is showing the increasingly unsettling attitude towards Muslims in Canada.
In conclusion, the continuity in the religious racism in Canada and the change from the Jews to Muslims is caused by extremist terrorists tainting the image of Islam paired with increased population of Muslims in Canada, and a change in the attitudes towards both Jews and Muslims. Though many strides have been made to help to eradicate racism of all types in Canada, but differences in faith have historically been a cause of discrimination and continue to Anti-Semitism has been greatly reduced in Canada since the 1920s and 1930s, it still exist today within some members of the population. Canada is one of the best nations to live in the world, yet the problems of racism still exist within it today. These problems are much more alarming in less developed countries. Better education regarding the different religions practised throughout the world would help to create a population with better critical thinking into matters of religion and form better judgements. Multiculturalism does not just mean to have a diverse population, but it means to have a population which has the understanding of the different ethnicities and religion within it and to use that understanding to respect and honour everyone.
Though Canada may not be the perfect ethnic utopia just yet, better compassion and understanding could, in the future, bring it one step closer.