Islamophobia in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Islamophobia in Canada

Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate can be defined as systematic hostility toward people who are or appear to be Muslim, or toward the religion of Islam. In Canada, this hostility has been manifested in a growing number of acts of discrimination and attacks against people associated with the Muslim community. Although the generalized use of the term Islamophobia to refer to this phenomenon is recent, Islamophobia as a lived reality is not.

After Christianity, Islam is the religion with the second largest number of adherents in Canada. In 2021, 4.9 per cent of the people in Canada identified themselves as Muslim.

(This is the full-length entry about islamophobia in Canada. For a plain-language summary, please see Islamophobia in Canada (Plain-Language Summary).)

Definition of Islamophobia

The Ontario Human Rights Commission defines Islamophobia as “stereotypes, bias or acts of hostility towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general.” The Commission also regards Islamophobia as the idea that the Muslim community is “a greater security threat.” This racist belief is thought to be present within society and its institutions, that is, systemically.

Some of the sources of Islamophobia include:
  • fear of the influence of Islam on Canadian society, in particular as the result of immigration;
  • the perception of a regression in women’s rights;
  • the perception of religious values that incite violence.

Islamophobic attacks

Studies show that after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the number of acts of Islamophobia increased substantially in both North America and Europe. According to the most recent data from Statistics Canada, Muslims rank second among the religious groups most targeted by hate crimes. Such crimes increased by over 250 percent from 2012 to 2015. It should be noted that most hate incidents are never reported to the authorities.

Many Muslim people come from racialized communities. People who “seem” Muslim because of their clothing or their physical appearance are at greater risk of being assaulted.

Islamophobia in Ontario and Quebec

Ontario and Quebec are the provinces that report the greatest number of Islamophobic crimes. This can be explained by the fact that most of the Muslims in Canada live in these two provinces. For example, over 7.5 percent of the population of the Greater Toronto Area is Muslim.

Did you know?
Canadians tend to greatly overestimate the number of their fellow citizens who are Muslim. This phenomenon also occurs in other Western countries. A survey conducted by Ipsos in 2016 showed that Canadians estimate that Muslims account for 17 percent of the country’s population (nearly 14 percent more than the actual figure).

A survey by Forum Research in 2016 showed that 48 percent of Quebecers view Islam unfavourably. In Ontario, the figure is 22 percent.

A study conducted by Geneviève Mercier-Dalphond and Denise Helly in 2021 examined the subject of anti-Muslim discrimination and violence more closely. This research found a connection between political proposals on laicity, such as the Québec Values Charter and the Act respecting the laicity of the State, and the increase in hate crimes. Women (especially women who wear veils) tend to be the first and most frequent victims of micro-aggressions (negative comments and demeaning attitudes, both deliberate and not) in day-to-day life. According to data from Statistics Canada, from 2010 to 2019, in 47 percent of the violent hate crimes committed against Muslims and reported to the authorities, the targets were women.

Two of the most violent attacks against Muslims in Canada were the Quebec City mosque shooting in January 2017 (six dead and many injured) and the attack in London, Ontario in June 2021 (four dead and one injured, all from the same family).

Vigil for the Victims of the Quebec City Mosque Attack

Employment discrimination and profiling

Violent verbal and physical attacks are not the only ways that Islamophobia is expressed. Discrimination in hiring is another one of the ways that Muslims experience its effects. Researcher Jean-Philippe Beauregard of Université Laval conducted a study on this subject, which showed that in Quebec, job applicants whose family names suggest an Arab background are up to two times less likely to be hired.

Recognizing the existence of unconscious and involuntary prejudices, the federal government launched an anonymized recruitment pilot project based on CV, in April 2017.

A study conducted by the Environics Institute in 2016 showed that one third of the Muslim community in Canada had been the subject of discrimination during the preceding five years — whether because of their religion, their ethnic origin or their language. These events occurred mainly in the workplace or in public settings.

Toward Recognition

In February 2018, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage published a report entitled Taking action against systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia. One of the committee’s recommendations in this report was that “the Government of Canada take a strong leadership role to actively condemn systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia.”

Other recommendations in the report were that the Government of Canada:
  • develop a public awareness campaign to promote diversity and inclusion;
  • develop an education campaign to promote media literacy;
  • develop educational materials about different religious and cultural practices;
  • designate 29 January as a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia and other forms of religious discrimination.

In response to the June 2021 attack in London, the members of the House of Commons unanimously adopted a motion by the NDP concerning Islamophobia. This motion urgently called for a national summit on this issue, which took place virtually the following month. The motion’s unanimity indicates a paradigm shift: in 2017, a motion to condemn Islamophobia had been rejected by Conservative Members of Parliament.

Since 2018, many groups have been asking for 29 January (the date of the Quebec City mosque shooting) to be designated a national day of remembrance. In 2021, the federal government proclaimed 29 January as being the yearly National Day of Remembrance of the Québec City Mosque Attack and Action against Islamophobia.

In January 2023, the Canadian government appointed journalist and human rights activist Amira Elghawaby as the Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia. According to a government statement, Elghawaby’s role is to advise and support the federal government in fighting islamophobia and racism (see also Systemic Racism in Canada).