Kurl: Quebec’s – and Canada’s – tolerance for religious symbols remains selective

Useful reminder:

As battle lines are drawn over the Coalition Avenir Quebec’s promised ban on public servants wearing religious garments or articles at work, it’s instructive to separate generalities from specifics.

When Quebecers are asked general questions such as “do you support a ban” on public employees in positions of authority wearing religious symbols at work, two-thirds say yes. But when asked specifically which symbols would be unacceptable for said public employees at work, it appears what they’re really saying is they support a ban on non-Judeo-Christian symbols.

This is a key distinction, because some observers take this majority support on the general question as a sign the province – and the rest of the country – is becoming more secular. Indeed, Quebec Premier François Legault himself wraps his plans in words such as “secularism” and “neutrality.” Public sentiment, however, is anything but “neutral.”

While most Quebec residents support the provincial government’s proposal overall, our polling data also show that majorities believe public employees should be allowed to wear a crucifix or a Star of David on the job (73 per cent and 68 per cent, respectively). Indeed, polling further indicates Quebecers are nearly twice as likely to want to see the crucifix in Quebec’s National Assembly stay put as to see it removed.

Quebecers aren’t alone in this thinking. Majorities in all other provinces are also more amenable to the display of Judeo-Christian symbols in the workplace. But where the province differs from the rest of the country is that while more than half say “non” to public servants wearing the Muslim hijab (57 per cent) and the Sikh turban (55 per cent), majorities in the rest of the country (between 70 and 80 per cent, depending on the province) have little issue with it.

These general opinion trends aren’t new. But Legault now represents the fourth premier (the CAQ the third governing political party) to try such a moratorium. Beyond legal challenges, there’s a reason his predecessors, while never explicitly abandoning the idea, also never quite got around to making it happen.

In a province where Catholic nuns have a centuries-old tradition in health care, is any political party in Quebec willing to apply its own ban evenly and tell them they can no longer provide comfort to hospital patients while in habit? In a province where the first Jewish synagogue was established in the 1760s, will this government politically survive telling a public school teacher to remove his kippah?

Meanwhile, it’s not like the rest of the country is completely tolerant of minority religious symbols. If there is something that “unifies” people across Canada, it is opposition to and discomfort with three specific articles of faith identified with the Sikh and Muslim religions. Regardless of where people live, most don’t think the burqa and the niqab – worn by some Muslim women – or the kirpan, the ceremonial dagger worn by some Orthodox Sikhs, should be worn by public servants in their own provinces.

Many would use these general opinions towards a religious symbol ban as evidence Canada is becoming more hostile to religion. But in fact, more people are inclined to see the general role and contributions of religious and faith groups to Canadian society as good than bad. Instead, the sobering reality is this hostility is reserved for some garments and symbols associated with specific religions.

In a country that often prides itself on acceptance of different cultures and ways of life, this can seem depressing. But a silver lining could exist in the views of the next generation. Times change. Nearly three decades ago, this country was gripped by a divisive debate over whether turbaned Sikhs should be able to serve in the RCMP and armed forces. Today that debate is over. And today, it is younger people – both in and outside Quebec – who are more permissive towards all articles of faith being worn in public workplaces. For more than a decade, a province and a country has exhausted itself talking about these issues. Maybe, a generation from now, the debate will be over.

Source: Kurl: Quebec’s – and Canada’s – tolerance for religious symbols remains selective

Kurl: Canadians are now confronting how generous we really are

While overall support for immigration remains high, and Canadians believe in the economic benefits of immigration, valid to ask how these macro numbers will continue to hold up should the asylum seeker numbers continue to grow and the government measures, current and likely those under consideration, do not result in a decline:

This is soon to be our summer of our discontent, disagreement and discomfort, as Canadians watch increasing numbers of people claiming asylum try their luck at undesignated border crossings

Discontent over Justin Trudeau’s government’s handling of the file. Disagreement over how it should be handled, and discomfort over the realization that despite the often-proffered narrative of Canada’s endless, unconditional welcome of newcomers, we’re wary to say the least, about this phenomenon.

As they try to escape the ever fear and uncertainty of Donald Trump’s ever-tightening restrictions on immigration, and spurred on by that now infamous prime ministerial tweet, they do so by circumventing Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), which denies entry to those who have already claimed or obtained status in the United States, by crossing into Canada not at airports or other, staffed border crossings, but anywhere they can, along thousands of kilometers of unmonitored perimeter.

Who doesn’t remember the iconic photograph early last year, of a smiling Mountie lifting a little girl in a pink coat over the U.S.-Canada border near Hemmingford, Que? What came to national attention as something of a curiosity – and for many a representation of the “best of Canada” – has since given way to pointed questions about how officials plan to deal with the tens of thousands and counting who are seeking to make a home on this side of the 49th parallel.

When the issue again dominated headlines last fall, slightly more than half of Canadians (53 per cent) said the country has been “too generous” to the border crossers, more than eight times as many as those who said Canada hasn’t been “generous enough” (six per cent). Politics drives those opinions: past Conservative voters are overwhelmingly more likely to say this, although it should be noted that at least 40 per cent of 2015 Liberals and yes, even past New Democrat voters agree.

As to where they wanted government focusing its attention, seven-in-10 said they’d prioritize assigning more staff to monitoring and securing unguarded parts of the border. The rest (30 per cent) said they’d prioritize assisting those seeking asylum.

Little wonder then, that at the time, the majority (57 per cent) disapproved of the Liberal government’s handling of the situation, including one-third of his own party’s past voters.

Even less wonder, for reasons practical and political, the government which last year rejected calls to suspend the STCA, is now calling on the U.S. to agree to amendments that would have it apply to the entire length of the border.

How did we get here? Didn’t Trudeau proclaim that “diversity is our strength?” Wasn’t the popularity of his stance on accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees part of what convinced centre and centre-left voters to spur the Liberals to a majority?

The thing is, feel-good rhetoric is easier to accept when a complex issue isn’t staring you right in the eyeballs. Before this, incidents of irregular asylum seekers suddenly reaching our borders were largely limited to a handful of boats that managed an arduous ocean journey; Indian nationals arriving off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador in the ’80s. Migrants from Fujian arriving in the late ’90s. Sri Lankans who made a similar trip about 10 years later.

Not until now have we had to answer uncomfortable questions about how welcoming we really are. The vast majority of people in this country (79 per cent) have said our immigration and refugee policy should give primacy to national economic and workforce needs over those in crisis abroad (21 per cent).

Given the more than 150,000 economic class immigrants who came from every corner of the world in 2016, diversity is indeed our strength. What Canadians perceive as a government weakness, however, is equating diversity with an open invitation followed by an ill-prepared response, to unchecked migration as Canada confronts its own mini-Greece moment.

via Kurl: Canadians are now confronting how generous we really are | Ottawa Citizen

Religion, multiculturalism and the public square: Shachi Kurl, Angus Reid

See the article for the charts:

The inclusion of “God” in the preamble to Canada’s 1982 Constitution Act was a last-minute addition by Pierre Trudeau.

Thirty-three years later, as his son Justin presided over the swearing in of a new Liberal cabinet, over half of its members chose to drop the words “so help me God” from their oath of office. In a little more than a generation, the religious beliefs that were once the central tenets of Canadian society have been swept aside, as the courts and Parliament moved to assert a person’s individual liberty over their body, their identity and their relationships, from birth to death. And Canadian public opinion — sometimes leading, at other times following — has marched largely kept pace with this transformation.

The era when churches and religious leaders held sway over public policy in Canada has come to an end. There are important pockets of religious opposition to abortion, assisted dying and gender neutralization, but in the final analysis secularism seems to have won the day.

Religion and religious influence declined in Canada after the Second World War. (In Quebec during the 1960s the process accelerated, and the province moved from being the most to the least churched society in the modern world.) In the 1980s, not long after Pierre Trudeau wrote the word “God” into the constitutional preamble, regular church attendance in Canada was at around 40 percent. When Justin Trudeau formed his first cabinet in 2015, regular attendance had decreased to around half that….

With this decline in influence, the era of religious dominance in the public square has come to an end. But this is not the end of the story. The role of religion in setting public policy has been replaced by a new issue: religion itself as a topic for public policy.

The highest-profile example is the controversy over the clothing worn by some Muslim women. In Quebec — once more at the centre of a religion-versus-state tangle — Bill 62 would require citizens to show their faces when receiving public services. Squarely aimed at niqabs and burkas, this legislation is wildly popular in Quebec but less so in the rest of Canada, where such moves have failed to garner majority support…

The niqab/burka issue is part of a larger drama playing out in Canada concerning rising levels of religious diversity, how Canada should adapt to this multifaith reality and the importance Canadians place on religious freedom guarantees enshrined in the Constitution.

The current debate over religious freedom isn’t limited to the Muslim religion. Indeed, major issues of religious freedom that have recently been before the courts involve Christian organizations attempting to assert their rights: for example, in British Columbia, Trinity Western University’s policies that impose moral standards on their students; in Ontario, the fight with the College of Physicians and Surgeons over exempting health care workers from activities related to abortion or assisted dying; and in Quebec, Loyola College’s demand to be able to set its own religious instruction curriculum, independent of the one established by provincial education authorities.

Beyond the legal aspects, the fate of religion in Canada ultimately depends on public attitudes. On this, the results of surveys by the Angus Reid Institute in 2017 reveal there is cause for concern among religious communities and faith groups. The most startling finding is the relatively tepid support for the very concept of religious freedom. Asked whether the inclusion of religious freedom in the Constitution makes Canada a better or worse country, only slightly more than half (55 percent) of 1,500 respondents in an October 2017 poll said “better.” A sizable minority — roughly 1 in 7 — said “worse”….

These findings, which reflect deep division in Canada over the country’s increasing religious diversity, follow decades of immigration from non-Christian countries. Canada may prize its multiculturalism, but when it comes to the religious roots of this diversity, Canadians are divided.

When asked if religious diversity in Canada is good or bad, 26 percent said “good” and 23 percent “bad,” and the rest were unsure or felt the impact is “mixed.” (Not surprisingly, Quebec is the outlier on this question, with those who said “bad” outnumbering those who said “good” by nearly 2 to 1.) This finding is supported by another from our polling, which asks Canadians if they think the country does too much to accommodate different religious and faith groups… Here we find opinions massively on the side of doing too much (53 percent think the country does too much to accommodate religion, only 9 percent say it doesn’t do enough, and the rest think it strikes the right balance).

The lack of deep support for religious freedom and religious diversity suggests that faith communities could come under increased scrutiny in the future, especially if political leaders sense an advantage in limiting the special status enjoyed by these organizations in taxation, education and health care.

On taxation, recent polling shows Canadians divided — 55 percent in favour and 45 percent against — on special tax status for religious organizations; in Quebec, the percentages are reversed…. The same pattern is evident on opinions about religious schools and about regulations that would curtail the right of faith-affiliated hospitals to opt out of assisted dying.

Starting with the election of Stephen Harper, and continuing into Justin Trudeau’s government, there has been an increasingly politicized debate over religion. Although Harper appointed a special ambassador for religious freedom, he also voted against a motion proposed by members of his own caucus to set up a parliamentary committee to study when life begins. Trudeau, in contrast, did not hesitate to ban pro-life candidates from running for the Liberal Party. When the Governor General he appointed used her maiden speech to disparage those who believe in “divine intervention,” he was quick to jump to her defence.

It’s still early days in this political chapter, where leaders are seeking to change public expression and institutional arrangements associated with religious belief. Ironically, the diversity that is at the heart of this emerging debate may impose the greatest limits on those who would seek to limit religious expression: Canadian immigration policies favour vibrant Islamic, Sikh, Hindu and Christian communities.

The late Richard Neuhaus, one of the 20th century’s great activists and thought leaders on matters of religion and the public square, was born a few miles down the Ottawa River from Canada’s parliament. He understood better than most that politics is a function of culture, and culture is ultimately a function of religion. Canada, which so proudly celebrates its multiculturalism, is witnessing a growing debate over religious diversity that eventually will have far-reaching political consequences. How the debate evolves depends on whether the different religions and traditions can cooperate and have sufficient impact in the political sphere to withstand the forces of secularism that are driving large elements of public policy in Canada.

via Religion, multiculturalism and the public square

Jagmeet Singh’s challenge: substance over style: Kurl

Shachi Kurl asks the question: are Canadians ready for a Sikh Canadian political party leader given overall discomfort with religious headgear and related symbols?

My sense is that discomfort will affect some potential voters but agree with her assessment that his performance will be more significant with most:

Canadians are by now used to seeing turbaned Sikhs on every party’s bench. Lost to the annals of history is the fact that Gurbax Malhi’s election as the Liberal MP for Brampton-Gore-Malton nearly 25 years ago prompted a rule change on Parliament Hill. Prior to that, it was forbidden to wear “headgear” in the House of Commons.

Nor did Canadians bat an eye when Harjit Sajjan, also an orthodox Sikh, was named Defence Minister, in part because there was more to his story. He had been a soldier and a police officer, so he brought (notwithstanding the Operation Medusa mess) a credibility to the job.

In the same way, some of Jagmeet Singh’s political advantages and liabilities will be equally banal. On the plus side, he’s a bike enthusiast and a human-rights activist, which will stand him in good stead with urban New Democrats. In the minus column, he isn’t well known outside his home province, a problem shared with the rest of the pack.

But let’s not forget for a moment how judgy Canadians can be when it comes to politicians’ appearances. Stephen Harper was fat-shamed over his fondness for root beer. Chrystia Freeland takes heat for often wearing the same dress. And if Tom Mulcair’s beard was a topic for the last federal campaign, it’s certain Mr. Singh’s beard, turban, and kirpan – all tenets of his faith – will be the subject of discussion at the coffee shop, the ice rink, and on talk radio.

He will have to overcome Canadian discomfort with some of that religious symbolism. Angus Reid Institute polling on the subject from April (totally independent of Mr. Singh’s entrance into the race) shows that, while the vast majority have no issue with the wearing of turbans, they object to the display and wearing of the kirpan. Indeed, two-thirds of those polled oppose it, rising to more than three-quarters in Quebec, where the issue wound its way into the courts in a divisive, high-profile case. One can only imagine what Quebeckers, who once returned a large mandate for “le bon Jack” Layton, would make of Mr. Singh. Would they be prepared to embrace “le bon Jagmeet?”

He’s given interviews saying he doesn’t mind Canadians talking about his looks. Well that’s good, because it will be talked of, a lot. The key to overcoming barriers and discomfort will be education, familiarity, and Mr. Singh ensuring his narrative is about more than religion. By education, he will need to tell and tell and tell again why he choses to wear the kirpan and why it’s important to him. Familiarity is just that, getting voters used to him and the way he looks, a task made easier by fashion spreads and appearances on national comedy shows.

I firmly believe Mr. Singh the politician is more than the sum of his religion and appearance. However, his ability to convince Canadians coast to coast to look past the visible symbols of his faith and assess him as a potential prime minister is yet undetermined. Urban, younger voters will be more receptive than older, rural ones. But no demographic is a monolith, and much will depend on Mr. Singh’s own performance as a credible alternative to his federal Liberal counterpart, all while putting the capital “V” in visible minority.

Source: Jagmeet Singh’s challenge: substance over style – The Globe and Mail