More than half of Quebec law and education students in survey say Bill 21 is making them want to leave the province
If a survey of education and law students is any indication, education and other public legal institutions may be looking at staffing issues in the future due to Quebec's secularism law, Bill 21.
A bilingual online survey by researchers at McGill and Concordia Universities found that of 629 law and education students, more than half would leave Quebec to find work after graduating, reporting "increased harassment, hostility, and negative sentiments since religious symbols ban (found in Bill 21) implemented."
It is not just those who wear religious symbols who are thinking of leaving, the survey showed.
A total of 177 of the respondents said they wore a religious symbol with 84 of those saying they wore a head scarf or hijab, meaning 452 of the respondents were not directly affected by the law, but still said it had an impact on their decision to find work in the province.
"The question was… has the passage of Bill 21 prompted you to rethink essentially, where you want to live? And the answer has been a resounding yes," said co-author Dr. Kimberley Manning. "And that's not just people who were religious symbols, right. That was the other really surprising (thing)."
The answers to the survey came from English (49.8 per cent), French (41.7 per cent) and bilingual (8.6 per cent) higher education institutions including McGill, Concordia, Université de Montréal and UQÀM, as well as CEGEPs. Most of the respondents were from universities or CEGEPs in the Montreal area (listed at the bottom of the document below).
The authors noted that though the bill is popular in many areas of Quebec, it is worth remarking that a younger, urban body such as students pursuing law and education may be much less enthusiastic about it.
"It's not just people who were religious symbols, but people who are around them that are saying, 'We don't want to live in this context,'" said Manning.
Bill 21 bans public servants, including teachers and Crown prosecutors, from wearing religious symbols at work. It was implemented in 2019.
The Ministry of Justice had no comment on the survey in question when asked by CTV News, but said Quebec chose to promote a secular state, and that the bill was duly passed.
"This is a legitimate societal choice based on principles such as the equality of all citizens, freedom of conscience and religion, and the religious neutrality of the State," said Elisabeth Gosselin, press attache for Minister of Justice Simon Jolin-Barrette. "The Quebec nation can be proud to have adopted a method of organizing relations between the state and religions that reflects its history and distinct social values."
- An executive summary of the bill is posted at the bottom of this article.
OVER A THIRD DISCRIMINATED AGAINST
Over a third (34.2 per cent or 215 respondents) said they experienced discrimination since the law went into effect, with more than half of those (56.5 per cent or 100 respondents) who wore a religious symbol such as a rosary, hijab, or cross tattoo saying they encountered discrimination.
Sixty-four of those 84 students who wear hijabs said they were discriminated against since the passage of Bill 21.
"I did a teacher practicum and watched students and the teacher ridiculed a Muslim girl for wearing a hijab. The teacher said with Bill 21, you can’t dress like that. The girl was mortified and silent and just 11 years old," one education student is quoted as saying in their response.
Another female education student wrote "people have pointed out to me that wearing the hijab is illegal" in her response.
MORE THAN HALF WILL LOOK FOR WORK ELSEWHERE
More than half of the survey's respondents (51.8 per cent, 326 students) said they were "very or somewhat likely" to look for work outside of Quebec because of Bill 21, with more than half of those stucation.
"I've decided to take the Ontario Bar Exam because I will likely go work in Ontario, where I feel more welcomed as a religious minority," said one female law student in her response.
In addition, more than half (51.4 per cent, 323 students) said they were aware of one or more of their colleagues who were looking for work outside of the province.
Twenty-four of the education students surveyed said they were likely to change careers as a result of the law.
The reason for leaving Quebec may be tied to their fears of being able to find work. Almost half of the respondents (44.4 per cent, 279 students) said Bill 21 will likely curtail their job prospects.
"I'm basically banned from teaching because of something I wear, which I will never comprise for the sake of a job," wrote a female education student who wears a hijab.
Even some of those who do not wear religious symbols that responded in the survey feel a sense of fear regarding employment prospects.
"I'm North African with tanned skin tone, I’m irreligious and I’m afraid that Bill 21 would be (conflated) with ethnicity or race," wrote one Universite de Montreal male law student.
QUEBEC LOOKS WORSE TO STUDENTS
Under a quarter (12.4 per cent, 78 students) said they had a better perception of Quebec since Bill 21 was passed, while 70 per cent (442 students) felt Quebec looks worse.
Co-author Elizabeth Elbourne said the bill has affected students, including those that will not be affected by it when pursuing their careers.
"We noticed many students shared their deep distress at witnessing the impact of the Law’s passage on their classmates, family members, friends and fellow students," said the associate professor in the Department of History and Classical Studies at McGill. "A number of students in Education left comments indicating that they were unwilling to teach in Quebec because of Law 21, despite not being directly personally affected."
The study's findings suggest Bill 21 has a lack of youth support, particularly in Montreal, and post there may be a "generation gap concerning attitudes towards Law 21," the authors write.
"Our findings of marked generational differences are further confirmed by recent polling suggesting that 73.9 per cent of Quebecers aged 65 to 74 support the ban on religious symbols worn by teachers, as opposed to only 27.8 per cent of Quebecers aged 18 to 24."
Elbourne and Manning have applied for funding to further study the issue by looking at the bill's effect on prospective teachers and students themselves.
"This is impacting students as well," said Manning. "This is impacting students who wear primarily hijabs or other religious symbols: kippas, turbans. These anecdotes that we're picking up suggest that students are experiencing an increase in discrimination in elementary and high school."