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August 16, 2022 2:18 pm
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Quebec’s ‘Secular Law’ Is Alienating Jews, New Study Finds

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Protestors in downtown Montreal at a rally opposing Bill 96, a law imposing the French language. Photo: Reuters/Christinne Muschi

Jews in Quebec, Canada are feeling the sting of discrimination in the province, a new survey by the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS) has found.

ACS issued the survey to assess how religious minorities have been affected by Quebec’s 2019 “secular law” which attempts to remove religious influence from broad swaths of Canadian society.

The law, known as Bill 21, is meant to “confirm the province’s secular status,”  and also prohibits the wearing of religious symbols by civil service employees in positions of authority and by teachers in the public sector. Canadian human rights groups have criticized the it for being unlike any in North America.

“Jews in Quebec feel less accepted and less hopeful for the future of the next generation than they did 3 years ago,” ACS found. “Several respondents alluded to being subjected to long-standing antisemitic tropes.”

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50% of Jewish men and women surveyed reported feeling compelled to mask their Jewishness, the group continued. 33% of Jewish women and 40% of Jewish men said they have heard bigoted comments about Jews.

Others reported being mistreated by their superiors at work.

“I was asked to remove my kippah by my employer while working as a multifaith chaplaincy student,” one respondent told ACS. Another said, “I was not offered a job because there was concern over my being absent during the first month of school due to religious holidays.”

Open hatred and hate crimes are a persistent problem too, with 50% of Jewish men, more than 10% of those in other groups, experiencing exposure to them.

In one incident, a refusal to lend someone money led to being “called a f*** Jew.” In another, a Jew was “verbally assaulted in the bus for discussing a religious holiday with a friend.”

The hostile climate is causing Jews to withdraw from political and social life, ACS said. 38.5% of Jewish women said they are less willing to engage with the wider society than they were three years ago, when Bill 21 was passed, and nearly 60% of both Jewish men and women said they no longer feel like “full-fledged” members of Quebec society.

Muslim and Sikh’s reported similar sentiments, leading ACS to conclude that “for most of the minority religious community members surveyed, life in Quebec since law 21 was enacted is significantly less peaceful and less harmonious.”

In May, the National Assembly passed “Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec,” declaring “that the only official language of Quebec is French” and mandating that workers in civil administration, education, healthcare, and justice, use only French to conduct official business. The law also limits the amount of non-French instruction public school students can receive and forbids employers from making fluency in a non-French language a job requirement.

Jewish leaders have noted that many Quebec Jews are immigrants who speak “neither French nor English” as a first language and that Bill 96 could prevent them from making and receiving counsel on critical health care decisions in the language they know best.

B’nai Brith Canada, a leading Canadian Jewish rights group, has said that such laws are driving Jews out of Quebec and into Toronto, pointing out that “no other jurisdiction in North America has a law like Bill 21 that so overtly discriminates against Jews and other religious minorities.”

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