Bill 21 & Islamophobia

Unfortunately, the proliferation of Islamophobia has led to an increasing number of violent attacks and hate crimes against Muslims. Many politicians pay lip service to Muslim support but contradict themselves through either expressly advocating for or remaining indifferent to policies and actions that exacerbate Islamophobia. In such regard, Canada, the United States, and Europe are no exception.

In 2017, Motion 103 was tabled to ask the Canadian House of Commons to condemn Islamophobia and endorse a study of how the federal government could better combat racism and discrimination. Eighty-six members of parliament, including the Conservative party leader, Erin O’ Toole, voted against it. Given the opportunity to gain political points, Mr. O’Toole, like many other politicians, condemned the brutal terrorist attack on June 6, 2021 that left a boy in hospital and his sister, parents and grandmother dead in London, Ontario, Canada. Mr. O’Toole’s words, like many other politicians, are hollow when their actions and policies contradict such words.

Bill 21 in Quebec, Canada is provincial legislation that bans public servants from wearing religious symbols. Government lawyers and teachers, for example, are prohibited from wearing the hijab, niqab, turban, and yarmulke. This law, similar to the law enacted in France and Switzerland, disproportionately targets Muslim women who wear the hijab or niqab, and effectively treats them and other religious minorities as second-class citizens.

One would be naive to think that western countries, who glorify themselves as bastions of freedom and acceptance, have protections built into their constitutions to prevent discriminatory laws from being enacted. This is not the case.

Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a fundamental component of the Canadian constitution, theoretically is to provide the freedom of religion, expression, thought, belief, assembly and association. However, Section 1 of the Charter permits federal and provincial legislatures to enact laws that place restrictions on the freedoms listed under section 2. Moreover, notwithstanding the “rights of freedom” contained in Section 2, Section 33 of the Charter permits federal and provincial governments to override and bypass these “freedoms”.

Despite the law being inherently and obviously Islamophobic, when asked by a reporter whether he thought Bill 21 "fosters hatred and … discrimination," Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau responded, "No." Either Mr. Trudeau is incredibly naive, or he is insincere, like many politicians, when publicly condemning Islamophobia for political points.


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