A new study shows that religious minorities in Quebec, particularly women, feel less safe and less welcome in the social fabric of society since the adoption of the province's secularism law, commonly known as Bill 21.

The study, described as "the most extensive" research into how the law affects non-Christian Quebecers, found that "the hospitability of the climate in Quebec for those who identify as Muslim, Jewish and Sikh reveals negative impacts that are broad-ranging, disruptive and profound."

"The testimonies of hate incidents and hate crimes were very disturbing," said lead researcher Miriam Taylor from the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS), which partnered with Léger Marketing for the study.

"People having their hijab ripped off, being spat upon, being spoken to in a way that shows absolutely no respect, no sense of the normal civility that people show each other when they're strangers."

The study combined a survey of Quebec as a whole from Léger and an ACS survey of religious minorities, including 632 Muslims, 165 Jews, and 56 Sikhs. Both were weighted to ensure the study was representative of the province as a whole. A total of 1,828 Quebecers responded to measure the perceptions and experiences of the law since it was adopted three years ago.


The bill prohibits the wearing of religious symbols by public servants in positions of authority while on duty, including teachers, police officers, prison guards, and judges. Critics of the law argue that it disproportionately affects Muslim women who wear head coverings, among other groups.

"I was walking home from daycare with my 3 year old daughter. A young man tried deliberately to run us over with a large pickup truck," wrote one survey respondent in a testimonial.

Overall, 73 per cent of Muslim women, 46 per cent of Jewish women, and 85.7 per cent of Sikh women reported a decline in their sense of safety in public over the last three years, the study revealed. Similar declines were also noted in their sense of belonging and hope for their children's future.

They tie those declines to "prejudicial remarks, aggressive actions that they have encountered in the streets of our cities and towns," Taylor said.

The study is filled with other testimonials from people sharing their experiences since Bill 21 was adopted.

"A policewoman in Quebec City called me a dirty immigrant," wrote one respondent. Another one wrote, "When Law 21 was announced, a man on the bus told me I would have to take off my headscarf."

The exposure to hate incidents/crimes among Muslim men (52 per cent) and Muslim women (66 per cent) "are almost triple those found in the population in general," which was 21 per cent for men and 18 per cent for women.

Based on her research, Taylor said she's able to conclude that the secularism law has created a climate that welcomes these kinds of responses.

"We know that laws have a normative impact. When seatbelts became law, people became more in favour of seatbelts. When same-sex marriage became law, the popularity of same-sex marriage increased. When laws come into place, they become the norm, they normalize behaviour. And negative opinions of non-Christian religious symbols are directly tied into Bill 21," Taylor said.


Support for the law stands at 63.7 per cent, according to the survey, although nearly 10 per cent fewer women (59 per cent) are in favour of it than men (68.5 per cent).

Asked by a journalist for his reaction to the results of the survey on Wednesday, Premier François Legault defended the bill, saying it's a "very reasonable" law that is less restrictive than secularism laws in other countries. 

"We're a place where we decided for all kinds of reasons secularism is important," Legault said at a news conference introducing a new candidate for the fall election. "I think it's fair, reasonable, and it's important also to make sure that we don't have what happened in U.S. with Trump or in France with Le Pen. I think that Quebec is a good place to stay for everybody and they are welcome."

The study also showed that a slim majority (55.9 per cent) of the population believes Bill 21 is dividing Quebecers. Even strong supporters of the law admit it is divisive.

Asked if a public servant should lose their job for not complying with Bill 21, the survey said 39 per cent said they agreed, with a higher proportion of men who said yes.


The survey also revealed that support for Bill 21 would drop significantly if the Supreme Court of Canada intervenes and determines the law is discriminatory.

A majority of the population (64.5 per cent) wants the country's highest court to decide if the law violates people's Charter rights instead of leaving it up to the National Assembly to be the "sole arbiter of the law’s validity and legitimacy."

And if the Supreme Court makes such a ruling, support for the law would drop by 18 per cent, below the mark of the majority, to 47 per cent, according to the study. 

The study and others like it give further weight to the argument that the passing of Bill 21 can be perceived as normalizing "blunt discrimination" against religious minorities in Quebec and "creating second, third…class citizens in the province," the Canadian Muslim Forum/Forum Musulman Canadien (FMC-CMF) said in a statement Wednesday in response to the survey.

"Jewish, Sikh, and Muslim Quebecers amongst others have felt the heavy burden of Bill 21 on their daily lives, have their future hopes dim and uncertain, feeling of insecurity, and have been the target of continuous prejudice," the statement read.

"FMC-CMF calls on the provincial Quebec government for an honest and open review of the implications of bill 21 on young Quebec women and Quebecers of all backgrounds."

With files from CTV Montreal's Matt Grillo