3. Current discrimination trends

3.1 Profile of HRTO creed applications (2010-2012)

The OHRC reviewed all applications (formerly known as “complaints”) filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) citing creed as a ground of discrimination in the 2010-11 fiscal year (April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011), and 2011-12 fiscal year (April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012). We started with a list of applications that the HRTO collated from its case management database, and ended up including 179 applications for review in 2010-11, and 140 for review in 2011-12.[61]

Applications citing creed accounted for 6.8% of all HRTO applications filed in the 2011-12 fiscal year, up slightly from 6% in 2010-11 (see the Chart below and Appendix 22.1 for breakdown of HRTO applications filed in the 2011-12 and 2010-11 fiscal years by ground). While this number appears relatively low, it may not reflect the actual extent of discrimination experienced by various communities in Ontario, due to such factors as under-reporting, mis-reporting, and the unknown outcome of applications alleging discrimination.[62] HRTO application statistics reported on here provide a description of the number and nature of applications citing creed as a ground of discrimination filed at the HRTO. It is difficult to gauge how much this may reflect broader trends, in part for the above-mentioned factors.

2011-2012 HRTO applications by ground







Sex, pregnancy and gender identity








Ethnic origin


Place of origin


Family status




Sexual solicitation or advances




Marital status


Sexual orientation






Record of offences


Receipt of public assistance


No grounds


Source: HRTO, retrieved June 21, 2013, from www.hrto.ca/hrto/?q=en/node/152

*The above chart shows the percentage of applications in which each prohibited ground under the Code is raised. Because many applications claim discrimination based on more than one ground, the totals in the chart far exceed the total number of applications received.

3.1.2 Applications by creed affiliation

In both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 fiscal years, Muslims accounted for the highest number of HRTO applications citing creed as a ground of discrimination, closely followed by Christians (of all denominations). According to the 2011 National Household Survey, Muslims made up 4.6% of Ontario’s population in 2011. Relative to their population size, Muslims were highly over-represented among HRTO applicants, accounting for more than one-third (36%) of all HRTO creed applications in 2011-12 and 31.8% in 2010-11 (see Appendix 22.2 and 22.5 for further details). This finding is consistent with research on the growth of Islamophobia and other discriminatory trends affecting Muslim communities, particularly following 9/11, as noted in Section 3.2.5 below. The review of HRTO applications, moreover, revealed that Muslims were not the only target of such trends. Several applications involved claims of discrimination by non-Muslims who alleged they were targeted because they were wrongly perceived to be Muslim. [63] This may show that race is a factor in anti-Muslim discrimination, when victims are discriminated against because of their outward appearance, rather than their actual beliefs (as discussed in Sections 3.2.3 and 3.2.5 below).

Number and percentage of HRTO applications citing creed by creed affiliation (2011-2012 fiscal year)

Pie chart shows the total number and percentage of HRTO applications citing creed by creed affiliation. The overall percentage is greater than 100 because some people identified more than one creed in their application. Muslims made up 50 or 35.7% of applications citing creed. Christians = 49 or 35%. Jewish = 15  or 10.7%. Misc. = 10 or 7.1%. Hindu = 10 or 7.1%. In 8 or 5.7% of applications no creed was identified.  In 7 or 5% of applications more than one creed was identified. Aboriginal spirituality = 4 or 2.9%. Sikh = 3 or 2.1%. Buddhist = 2 or 1.4%. Witchcraft = 2 or 1.4%. Non-religious = 1 or 0.7%.

*Miscellaneous: Elemental magic, Ethical veganism, Kabala, Membership in law society of Canada, Rastafarian, Taoism, Wiccan, Yoga system & cosmology, Zen, Zoroastrianism

While Christians overall are not over-represented among applicant groups relative to their population size,[64] they are involved in a significant number of HRTO cases, lending some credence to the perception that Christians may also feel like “minorities” at times in Ontario’s increasingly secular society (in some cases, despite being a majority). Among creed groups, Christians (of all denominations) [65] accounted for the second highest number of HRTO applications citing creed as a ground of discrimination, in both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 fiscal years. Some 35% of HRTO creed-based applications filed in 2011-12, and 26.8% filed in 2010-11, were from persons identifying with various Christian denominations (see Appendices 22.2, 22.3, 22.5, and 22.6 for further breakdown of applications by creed affiliation). Applicants self-identifying as “Roman Catholic” (9.3%) and simply “Christian” (9.3%) made up the largest number of Christian applicants in the 2011-12 fiscal year, followed by those identifying as Seventh Day Adventist (5.7%) and Christian Orthodox (2.9%) (see Appendix 22.3 for 2011-2012 breakdown of creed applications by Christian denominational affiliation). A similar pattern was evident in HRTO creed-based applications in the 2010-11 fiscal year (see Appendix 22.6).

Relative to their population size,[66] members of the Jewish (15 or 10.7%), Hindu (10 or 7.1%), Traditional Aboriginal (4 or 2.9%) and Sikh (3 or 2.1%) faiths accounted for a disproportionate number of 2011-2012 HRTO creed applications, as did a number of lesser known creed groups (e.g. Rastafarians, Raelians, and others grouped as “miscellaneous” in the graphs reporting on 2010-11 and 2011-12 HRTO creed applications; see Appendices 22.2 and 22.5 for for further details). People identifying as non-religious – whether atheist, agnostic or simply non-religious – accounted for a relatively small number (2 or 1.4%) of HRTO creed applications in 2011-12, but a larger portion (some 5%) in 2010-2011. In both fiscal years, a significant number of applicants did not identify with any particular creed (19 or 10.6% of creed applications in 2010-11 and 8 or 5.7% of creed applications in 2011-12).

The earlier discussed trend of increasing individualism, hybridity, and eclecticism in patterns of contemporary creed belief and practice was in part evident in the significant number of HRTO creed applications – some 5% or 7 in 2011-12 – in which the applicant identified with more than one creed (see Section 1.2 above and Appendix 22.4). There was also an observed tendency among some some applicants, particularly in 2011-12, to elevate what may appear to be more isolated opinions and beliefs to the level of a creed (e.g. belief in “being truthful”, “good business practice”, “fairness”, “respect and dignity for hard work” etc.) (see Appendix 22.5).

Intersecting grounds

Percentage of HRTO applications citing creed by intersecting grounds (2011-2012 fiscal year) 

Bar graph shows receipt of public assistance at 0.7%. Record of offences at 2.1%. Sexual solicitation or advances at 2.1%. Association at 2.9%. Marital status at 3.6%. Sexual orientation at 4.3%. Citizenship at 7.1%. Family status at 7.9%. Gender identity at 10.0%. Age at 11.4%. Sex at 11.4%. Disabiltiy at 22.1%. Reprisal or threat of reprisal at 25.7% and race and related grounds at 50.7%. In 28.6% of cases no intersecting grounds were cited.

A majority of HRTO creed applications - 50.7% in 2011-12, and 60.3% in 2010-11 - also cited a race-related ground in addition to creed (in order of frequency, ethnic origin, place of origin, race, ancestry, colour) (see graph above, and Appendices 22.7-22.10). Only 14% of HRTO creed applications in 2011-2012, and just over one-quarter (or 28.6%) in 2011-2012, only cited creed as a ground of discrimination. Such findings are consistent with research on the significant intersecting impact of ethnic and racial dynamics in discrimination based on creed (see section 3.2.3 for more discussion).

3.1.3 Social areas

Number and percentage of HRTO applications citing creed by social area (2011-2012 fiscal year)

Pie chart shows the social area of employment  cited 102 times or 72.9%. Goods, services and facilities cited 34 times or 24.3%. Housing cited 4 times or 2.9%. Associations cited 3 times or 2.1%. Contracts cited = 2 times or 1.4%.

All human rights applications must cite a Code “social area” as well as a prohibited ground of discrimination. Almost 73% of all 2011-2012 HRTO applications citing creed, and 62% of 2010-2011 HRTO creed applications, identified employment as the social area. The area of services, goods and facilities was cited in 24.3% of 2011-12 creed applications, and housing accounted for almost 3%.

HRTO creed applications compared to all HRTO applications by social area (2011-2012 fiscal year)

Bar graph shows 76.4% of all HRTO applications were employment releated and 72.9% of all creed-related applications were emloyment related. 21.0% of all HRTO applications were related to goods, services or facilities and 24.3% of all creed applications were related to goods, services or facilities. 5.0% of all HRTO applications were related to housing and 2.9% of all creed applications were related to housing. 0.7% of all HRTO applications were related to contracts and 1.4% of creed applications were related to contracts. 0.7% of all HRTO applications were related to Associations and 2.1% of all creed applications were related to associations.

The distribution of creed applications across social areas is broadly consistent with larger trends in HRTO applications. While most creed applications, like all HRTO applications, occur in the social area of employment, when compared to all applications in this period, creed applications are slightly over-represented in the area of services[67] and under-represented in employment (see above graph and Appendix 22.11, 22.12). This discrepancy is even greater in 2010-2011 applications (see Appendix 22.13 and 22.14).

3.1.4 Accommodation

Our review of the 2011-2012 HRTO creed applications revealed that religious accommodation issues, mostly in employment contexts, featured prominently (in just over 42% of creed applications) among the kinds of discrimination issues alleged in applications (see the graph below). Though not systematically tracked in the same way, incidents of harassment and differential/prejudicial treatment based on creed were also fairly commonly alleged in creed applications.

Percentage of HRTO creed applications citing creed accomodation (2011-2012 fiscal year)

Pie chart shows that during the 2011-2012 fiscal year the majority of creed applications (57.9%) did not involve a creed accommodation issue. During the same period, 42.1% of creed applications did involve a creed accommodation issue.

3.1.5 Sex

The 2011-2012 review of HRTO creed applications tracked applications by the sex of applicants (where indicated, based on self-identification) and found that a greater number of these applicants were male (57.1%) compared to female (34.3%). It is difficult to infer the extent to which this may reflect wider trends in creed discrimination. Such differences in the numbers of applications filed by males compared to females could reflect a variety of causes (including, potentially, the greater propensity for men to report alleged incidents of discrimination). The extent to which this pattern in reporting is unique, or similar to wider trends in HRTO applications, cannot currently be determined, since the HRTO does not track demographic information on the sex of applicant groups.

Percentage of HRTO applications citing creed by sex (2011-2012 fiscal year)

Pie chart shows that 34.3% of creed applications were filed by women and 57.1% were filed by men. In 8.6% of cases, the applicant did not indicate their sex.

3.1.6 Geographical distribution

Most applications citing creed were from applicants in the central (47.1%) and Toronto (30.7%) region, perhaps reflecting, at least in part, the greater ethnic and religious diversity in these regions, compared to other regions (see graph below, and Appendix 22.16 ). The top five locations for 2010-11 creed-based HRTO applications were: Toronto (accounting for 45% of all applications); Mississauga (8.3%); Ottawa (4.7%); Brampton (4.1%), and London and Richmond Hill, which each accounted for 2.3% of all 2010-11 HRTO creed applications (see Appendix 22.18).[68]

Geographical distribution of HRTO applications citing creed (2011-2012 fiscal year)

Pie chart shows 66 applications or 47.1% of creed-based applications came from the Central Ontario region. 43 or 30.7% came from Toronto. 14 or 10% came from Eastern Ontario. 13 or 9.3% came from Western Ontario and 4 applications or 2.9% came from Northern Ontario.

Relative to the geographical distribution of all HRTO applications, a disproportionate number of creed applications in both 2010-11 and 2011-12 were from applicants in the Toronto and Central Ontario region (see Appendices 22.17 and 22.18).[69]

[61] The HRTO identified applications where applicants checked the box for creed on the application form. Upon further OHRC review of these applications, we discovered that not all of the applications we recieved from the HRTO actually cited creed as a ground. Those that did not were not reviewed.

[62] Under-reporting of discrimination is a well-known phenomenon in the human rights world, as has also been observed in the reporting of hate crimes. Also, this general under-reporting tendency may be more prominent among newer Canadians. Many newcomers belong to creed minority groups, who are less familiar with, and/or who may feel less empowered or equipped to navigate and use the Ontario human rights legal system. Furthermore, since discrimination based on creed is often intertwined with discrimination based on other sometimes closely inter-related grounds (e.g. ethnic origin, race, colour, place of origin, ancestry), it is possible that cases involving creed are also being reported under other human rights grounds.

[63] The creed of the applicant was determined by how applicants self-identified in applications. In some cases, applicants were discriminated against because of their perceived creed, which in some cases was different than their actual creed. In such cases, the perceived creed was counted, because of our interest in the bases’ of discrimination on the ground of creed.

[64] The total number of persons identifying as Christian (including all denominations) in Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) was 8,167,295 or 64.55% of the total population (Statistics Canada 2013). Roman Catholics made up 31.43% of Ontarians in the 2011 NHS, followed by persons affiliated with various Protestant denominations, who comprised 30.77% (or 3,892,965) of Ontario’s population (if we aggregate, in order of their size, “Other Christian”, United Church, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal, and Lutheran denominations as reported in the 2011 NHS).

[65] The category of “Christian” is a composite category that we created to cover all Christian denominations. It does not refer simply to persons self-identifying specifically as “Christian” by affiliation.

[66] According to the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), the Jewish population accounted for 1.55% of Ontario’s population in 2011. Jews, however, accounted for a disrproportionate 10.7% of HRTO creed applications in 2011-12. While 0.13% (or 15,905) of Ontario’s population were affiliated with “Traditional (Aboriginal) Spirituality” in the 2011 NHS, applications involving Aboriginal Spirituality comprised 2.9% (or 4) of all HRTO applications citing creed as a ground of discrimination in the 2011-12 fiscal year. Hindus and Siks constitute 2.9% and 1.42% of the Ontario population respectively, according to the 2011 NHS, while accounting for 7.1% and 2.1% of HRTO applications citing creed as a ground of discrimination in the 2010-11 fiscal year.

[67] Typically, services applications allege discrimination in public institutions such as health care, education and policing more often than other private services such as hospitality, dining and entertainment. But we do not have any data to confirm this is this case here.

[68] The OHRC’s review of 2010-11 HRTO creed applications classified applications by city in which the incident occurred, as revealed in the “Location of Discrimination” question in 7b of HRTO’s application form. These findings are not comparable with how the HRTO reports its application data, by region, or how we have here reported on the 2011-12 HRTO creed applications, both of which classify region by postal code. This data, however, does give a more precise sense of where allegations of discrimination are occurring.

[69] The HRTO’s data for 2010-2011 suggest that Toronto is over-represented in applications alleging discrimination because of creed. In 2010/11, 27% of all applications filed were from Toronto, as compared to 44.6 % of all creed applications reviewed.


3.2 Underlying trends in research and consultation

3.2.1 Increase of religion-based hate crime

Hate crime statistics offer another source of information about religious discrimination and intolerance. However, this data is limited because, among other reasons, it is estimated that two-thirds of hate crime victims do not report them to authorities. The numbers of people reporting crimes, moreover, varies between communities, and there are differences in how victimization is reported and understood. For example, it can be hard to distinguish whether a hate crime is based on race, ethnicity or religion.[70]

Statistics Canada released two national studies of hate crime, based on 2009 and 2010 hate crime data.[71] In 2009, religion was the second most cited reason for hate crime (29%), compared to 54% for race or ethnicity (the leading factor reported in hate crimes year over year). In 2009, hate crimes based on religion increased more than any other category, rising by 55% nationally from the previous year. In 2010, hate crime motivated by religion and race or ethnicity declined 17% from 2009, while crimes based on race or ethnicity declined 20%.

In 2009, similar to trends in previous years, 70% of all religion-based hate crimes in Canada were committed against the Jewish faith (283, a 71% rise from 2008). The largest increase of hate crimes based on race involved hate crimes against Arabs or West Asians[72], which doubled from 37 incidents in 2008 to 75 in 2009.

The number of Canadian police-reported hate crimes against the Jewish faith accounted for just over half of all religion-based incidents in 2010 (204 in total) – a decline of 38% from the previous year – while increases were reported for hate crimes against the Muslim (+26%) and Catholic (+32%) faiths. Arabs or West Asians (11%) and South Asians (10%) remained the second and third most targeted race or ethnic group after Blacks, who continued to be the primary victims of all hate crimes committed in 2010.

The extent that Islamophobia (defined in section 3.2.5 below) plays a factor in hate crimes against Arabs, West Asians or South Asians is difficult to discern, because of variations in how hate crime victimization may be perceived and reported. Longer-range comparative studies of hate crime data show a general upsurge in crimes motivated by religion post-9/11, particularly against Muslim and Jewish Canadians.[73] The 2003 Ethnic Diversity Survey nevertheless found that only 0.9% of Jews and 0.54% of Muslims reported being a victim of a hate crime based on religion between 1998 and 2003.[74] Other research suggests, however, that people may under-report religion as a factor in hate crimes and discrimination more generally, in part due to difficulties in disentangling religion from race or ethnicity in many cases.[75]

3.2.2 Polarization of public debate

Some researchers have noted an increase of “us” versus “them” contrasts in mainstream media and public discussion about religion post-9/11.[76] Some argue that the mainstream media and public discussion linking new religious diversity with immigration and threats to national security has “fostered resentment against immigration, multiculturalism and accommodation of the needs of religious minorities” more generally.[77] As well, opinion polls suggest that while Canadians may generally support diversity and immigration, many increasingly favour assimilation over accommodation and diversity approaches, particularly when it comes to dealing with religious diversity (see Appendices 24, 25, 26, for more information on opinion polls).[78]

3.2.3 Racializing creed discrimination and prejudice

Scholars have noted that it is hard to disentangle religious-based prejudice and discrimination from that based on racism, xenophobia and ethnocentrism. The close relationship between religion, race and ethnicity for many creed communities, and the visibility of such differences (ethnic, racial and religious) from the mainstream, have exposed many ethno-religious minority Ontarian communities to intersecting forms of discrimination and harassment.[79] After 9/11, this intersectional prejudice and animosity has at times resulted in the broad targeting of visible minority communities associated with Islam (e.g. Arabs and South Asians), regardless of actual religious affiliations.

One of the first hate crimes following 9/11 involved the fire-bombing of a Hindu temple in Hamilton, which the perpretrator apparently mistook for a mosque. There are also numerous other instances involving members of the Sikh faith or non-Muslim individuals of Arab or South or West Asian background, who have been victimized as “Muslims” owing to their outward appearance, language and visibility.

Only a few studies measure levels or types of discrimination faced by religious minorities.[80] Some research suggests that visible minority status is a stronger predictor of disadvantage and discrimination than religion.[81] Other studies, however, suggest that people of certain religious backgrounds (Muslims in particular) are more vulnerable to low income and unemployment across generations, in spite of their generally higher education levels.[82]

Many theorists have explored how differences of religion, culture and ethnicity can be “racialized” in a way that leads to more hardened positions and “justifications” for discriminating against ethnic and religious minorities. This has variously been referred to as the ”new racism” or ”neo-racism” (racism without race), which is different from historically dominant forms of racism based on biology and skin colour.[83] Religion can become “racialized”[84] when religious differences are viewed and treated as fixed and unchanging, and as the only determinant behind individual thought and behaviour. Like traditional forms of racism, the new racism ascribes views and behaviours to religious persons based on their perceived (in this case religious) group affiliation. Internal differences within religious groups are obscured and overlooked in the process. This racialization of religion often occurs because of perceived identifiable signs or markers of religious difference (such as ethnic, racial, religious, linguistic, cultural, etc.).

3.2.4 Antisemitism

Antisemitism is perhaps the prototypical model of racialized religion. The very term antisemitism, coined in the 1870s by people promoting race-based hatred of Jews, reflects a transition from religion (or “anti-Judaism”) to race as a basis for discrimination, hatred and violence against Jews.[85] Definitions of antisemitism range from “acts or attitudes based on ‘the stereotypical construction of ‘the Jew’”[86] to more concrete descriptions that feature specific examples such as are adopted in the recent Ottawa Protocol on Combatting Antisemitism.[87] The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) defines antisemitism (in contradistinction to “anti-Semitism”)[88] in its formative 2002-2003 Report as “anti-Jewish thinking as well as attitudes and acts of prejudice and/or hostility against Jews (as Jews) after 1945” (p.11).The Canadian Race Relations Foundation (2013a) defines antisemitism more broadly as

[l]atent or overt hostility or hatred directed towards, or discrimination against individual Jews or the Jewish people for reasons connected to their religion, ethnicity, and their cultural, historical, intellectual and religious heritage. Manifestations of antisemitism can range from individual acts of physical violence, vandalism and hatred, to organized efforts to destroy entire communities and genocide.

There is still significant debate about the definition and scope of antisemitism, including whether and to what extent historical forms of anti-Judaism,[89] and more contemporary forms of anti-Zionism, should be included. When considering anti-Zionism, concerns have been raised about the rise of a “new anti-Semitism”[90] that is framed more on politics and religion than on race.[91] More recent authoritative accounts and definitions prefer to use the notation of “antisemitism” over “anti-Semitism,” in part in an effort to challenge the very notion of the existence of a “Semitic race,” as well as the reduction of antisemitism to a form of racism.[92]

Antisemitism remains one of the most longstanding and extreme forms of creed-based prejudice and discrimination in Ontario history (as discussed in Section 2.2 above). However defined, Jewish communities in Ontario continue to face the problem of antisemitism, as shown in the earlier discussion of hate-crime data.[93]

The League for Human Rights of B'nai Brith monitors antisemitic hate crime incidents and prepares an annual audit, available on their website. B’nai-Brith’s 2011 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents in the Ontario Region, shows that “the Jewish community is victimized by hate- and bias-motivated crime at a rate that, from 2002-2008, ranged from 15 to 25 times higher than the overall population.”[94] According to their 2012 Audit, there were 726 antisemitic incidents reported to the League in Ontario that year. This was the highest of any Canadian province and an increase of 2.5% over the 708 cases documented in Ontario in 2011 (see the table below for breakdown of incidents by region). Over the past decade, incidents have more than doubled.[95]

A global study by the Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University places Canada as third in the world (with 44), in terms of the number of “major violent antisemitic incidents” reported in 2005, next only to France (65) and the United Kingdom (89).[96]

Year 2012

Number of Incidents




% of total incidents for Region


Incidents Harassment Vandalism Violence Harassment Vandalism Violence
Atlantic 27 22 5   81.5% 18.5%  
Quebec 337 279 54 4 82.8% 16.0% 1.2%
Ontario 730 540 182 8 74.0% 24.9% 1.1%
Manitoba 56 39 16 1 69.6% 28.6% 1.8%
Saskatchewan 16 12 4   75.0% 25.0%  
Alberta 75 47 28   62.7% 37.3%  
British 103 73 30   70.9% 29.1%  
North 1 1     100.0%    
Canada 1345 1013 319 13 75.3% 23.7% 1.0%

* Atlantic Region: Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswich and Nova Scotia
** North Region: Yukon, North West Territories and Nunavut 

Source: Adapted from B’nai Brith 2012 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, Retrieved July 24, 2013, from www.bnaibrith.ca/audit2012

3.2.5 Islamophobia

Islamophobia is a term of contested historical origin and more recent public profile that has also been used to draw attention to the ways hostility towards Islam as a religion can sometimes overlap with more racialized and xenophobic forms of hostility towards Muslims “as a people.” While the linguistic origin of the term signifies “fear” of “Islam,” definitions of Islamophobia generally go beyond this to include both anti-Muslim (group of people) and anti-Islam (the religion) sentiments and behaviour. Definitions of Islamophobia include:

  • “stereotypes, bias or acts of hostility towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general”[97]
  • “any ideology or pattern of thought and/or behaviour in which [Muslims] are excluded from positions, rights, possibilities in (parts of) society because of their believed or actual Islamic background [and] positioned and treated as (imagined/real) representatives of Islam in general or (imagined/ real) Islamic groups instead of their capacities as individuals”;[98]
  • “the dread, hatred, hostility towards Islam and Muslims perpetrated by a series of closed views that imply and attribute negative and derogatory stereotypes and beliefs to Muslims”.[99]

Chris Allen’s (2010) work provides one of the more rigorous and comprehensive definitions of Islamophobia to date, detailing the diverse ”modes of operation” for sustaining and perpetuating Islamophobia.[100]

The (1997) British Runnymede Trust Report, Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, is most widely credited with giving the term prominence and profile in public policy and discussion. Often cited for its definition, this report outlines eight recurring ”closed views” of Islam that characterize Islamophobia:

  1. seeing Islam “as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change”
  2. seeing Islam “as separate and 'other'” without “values in common with other cultures,” being neither affected by them nor having any influence on them
  3. seeing Islam as “inferior to the West,” more specifically, “as barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist”
  4. seeing Islam “as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a 'clash of civilisations'”
  5. seeing Islam “as a political ideology...used for political or military advantage”
  6. “reject[ing] out of hand” criticisms made of the West by Islam
  7. using “hostility towards Islam...to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society”
  8. seeing anti-Muslim hostility “as natural or normal.”

There is considerable debate on defining Islamophobia. Examples of areas of debate include:

  • whether the term focuses overly on “beliefs” versus more institutional and structural forms of discrimination[101]
  • whether Islamophobia is simply a form of racism and/or something unique and distinct on its own[102]
  • whether it is a distinctly contemporary phenomenon and/or a long-standing feature of Euro-western civilization.[103]

Some people also question the very existence of something called Islamophobia.

Nevertheless, research shows that anti-Muslim prejudice, or Islamophobia, exists and has grown in Ontario since 9/11.[104] Various participants at the OHRC policy dialogue for instance drew attention to the existence of prejudicial (“closed”) views of Muslims and Islam in the Ontario context.[105] Opinion polls and surveys in particular reveal a pattern of distrust, fear and animosity towards Muslims in Canada in the post-9/11 era.[106] The apparent persistence and growth of this trend over time lends some support to the view that Islamophobia is becoming increasingly socially acceptable over time, as has been observed in other jurisdictions.[107]

While Canadians generally envision themselves as more “tolerant” of diversity than other western nations, this same body of research suggests that this is not the reality when it comes to accommodating such things as Muslim headscarves in public life.[108] Antipathy to the Muslim headscarf, which is particularly pronounced in Quebec, still extends well beyond Quebec. The breadth of public support for a ban on niqabs (full-face veil) is particularly pronounced. For instance, one Canada-wide Angus-Reid Poll in 2010 surveyed Canadians’ attitudes towards Quebec’s proposed Bill 94,[109] which would essentially require, among other things, all public sector employees and people using government or public services (such as schools, libraries, health care services, social and childcare services) to show their face at all times. This would in effect ban the niqab (the full-face veil that only reveals the eyes). The survey found support outside Quebec to be highest in Alberta (82 %) and Ontario (77 %).[110] Explanations for public discomfort with the Muslim headscarf vary, from concerns with women’s equality, to more general concerns with security, and conformity with “Canadian ways of life.”

Perceived frequency of discrimination in Canada 2011

Bar graph shows 42% of Muslims perceived the frequency of discrimination to be often. 36% perceived it sometimes, 11% perceived it rarely, 5% never perceived it, and 5% said they didn't know. Of South Asians, 29% perceived the frequency of discrimination to be often. 43% perceived it sometimes, 18% perceived it rarely, 6% never perceived it, and 4% said they didn't know. Of Blacks 27% said they perceived the frequency of discrimination to be often. 41% perceived it sometimes, 22% perceived it rarely, 7% never perceived it, and 4% said they didn't know. Of Jews, 15% said they perceived the frequency of discrimination to be often. 34% perceived it sometimes, 32% perceived it rarely, 12% never perceived it, and 6% said they didn't know. Of Chinese 12% perceived the frequency of discrimination to be often. 40% perceived it sometimes, 34% perceived it rarely, 10% never perceived it and 4% said they didn’t know. Of Aboriginal Peoples 42% perceived frequency of discrimination to be often. 33% perceived it sometimes, 15% perceived it rarely, 6% never perceived it and 4% said they didn't know. Of gays and lesbians 38% perceived frequency of discrimination to be often. 38% perceived it sometimes, 14% perceived it rarely, 5% never perceived it and 4% said they didn't know. Of Anglophones inside Quebec 7% perceived frequency of discrimination to be often. 28% perceived it sometimes, 33% rarely perceived it, 30% never perceived it and 2% said they didn't know. Of Francophone’s outside Quebec 6% perceived frequency of discrimination to be often. 29% perceived it sometimes, 39% perceived it rarely, 19% never perceived it and 7% said they didn't know.
Source: The Environics Institute. Focus Canada 2011, p. 28.[111]

As well, Environics Canada’s (2006) comprehensive Focus Canada survey of Canadian Muslims found that perceived levels of experienced discrimination among Muslims were not noticeably lower in Canada than in other western countries (see Appendix 32).[112] This survey found that Muslim Canadians were most concerned about effects of discrimination (67%) and unemployment (64%) on Muslim life in Canada. Other survey research shows how 9/11 has had a formative effect on anti-Muslim discrimination trends.[113]

Qualitative research shows that while Canadian Muslims generally have a favourable view of how Canadian policy and law protects religious freedoms and supports diversity, there is still a growing sense of alienation (“a feeling of not belonging”) in segments of the community. In part, this is a consequence of ongoing day-to-day encounters with Islamophobia in Canadian workplaces, media, and society.[114] One analyst thus cautions: “If people are constantly reminded that they do not belong, whether on the crude level of the rhetoric of far-right discourse or media or the day-to-day discrimination, subtle or otherwise, that they may face, or when the government fails to listen to their concerns and request for needs, it is only a matter of time before they will feel alienated and lose the desire to belong”.[115]

Some critics have argued that definitions of “new antisemitism” and/or “Islamophobia” are over-reaching, and used in ways that stifle healthy debate by shielding religion and politics (for example, the policy and conduct of the state of Israel or other Islamic state and non-state actors) from legitimate critique. While a human rights approach will not resolve such disputes, to the extent that these go beyond the “discrimination” lens and purview of human rights legislation, there are some points to consider. From a human rights legal perspective, religion-based racism, bigotry and prejudice can become actionable under the Code as “discriminatory” if and where it can be shown that persons have been treated unequally in one of the Code’s five social areas (employment, services and facilities, housing, contracts, vocational associations) solely, primarily, or even partly because of their religious or creed affiliation.

3.2.6 Globalization

One of the distinguishing features of contemporary forms of religious/creed intolerance and discrimination is the global scope and impact of relations shaping it. Current forms of Islamophobia and antisemitism especially show how global issues shape local ones, and vice versa.[116] In some cases, overseas ethnic, religious and political conflicts are played out in Ontario and elsewhere, albeit in locally conditioned ways. Some examples in the news and case law (see OHRC Creed case law review) include local conflicts and confrontations connected to:

  • Israel-Palestine conflict
  • Bosnian-Serbian war
  • Sudanese partition
  • other internal overseas national conflicts, such as between Tamils and the Sri Lankan government, the Chinese government and Falun Gong
  • internal disputes among Sikhs regarding the pursuit of an independent homeland in the Punjab.

The resurgence of religion globally, as documented by international religious observers, along with intensifying globalization, may increase such trends in the future.[117]

3.2.7 Anti-religion

One Canadian social trend, shaped in part by trends in other western liberal democracies, has been a hardening of “secular” positions, and growth of a hostile attitude towards religion more generally in some segments. Some Canadian sociologists believe that this is especially the case among Canadian social and political elites. In the past, scholars observe, faith was assumed, and differences among (mostly Christian) religious believers formed the primary axis of religious/creed conflict. “Today the issue is often faith itself,”[118] with conflicts increasingly flowing along religious versus non-religious lines.

Anti-religious sentiment or “anti-religionism” has drawn strength from a variety of sources that generally share a stereotypical view of religion as inherently or “essentially unenlightened, tribal, anti-egalitarian, and potentially violent.”[119] In some cases, these anti-religious sentiments are reinforced by anti-immigrant prejudice, racism and xenophobia.[120] In other cases, sentiments are based on various secular ideologies that have come to challenge historically dominant Christian mores and institutions.

In yet other cases, these two streams of anti-religionism have overlapped. An example is public backlash initially directed against accommodating a particular religious minority group, that leads to withdrawing or questioning accommodation arrangements for all religious groups.[121] In this context, some have argued that actively practicing Christians (including people from the historically mainline denominations) are increasingly becoming marginalized “minorities” in their own right.[122]

3.2.8 Inter and intra creed disputes and intersections

Religious/creed adherents have been victims – and also perpetrators – of prejudice and discrimination against various minorities, both internal and external. Research and case law shows many ways that intersectional identities and power dynamics can operate internally within creed communities, leading to targeting and marginalizing religious, gender, disabled and sexual minorities. For example, research suggests that female religious adherents often face a double burden: gender-based discrimination from within, and ethnic and religious-based disadvantage and discrimination from without. In some cases, this is in part due to their greater socio-economic vulnerability, and/or visibility, as in the case of hijab-wearing Muslim women Hindu or Sikh women who wear traditional attire.[123] While many recent competing rights scenarios have pitted religious individuals against women or sexual minorities, scholars nevertheless emphasize the importance of not homogenizing, or assuming mutually exclusive, antagonistic relations between such communities and identities.[124]

Confessional and doctrinal disputes among members of the same faith and between members of differing faiths are also not uncommon in the case law.[125] Researchers moreover note growing ethno-racial diversity within historically dominant Christian denominations.[126] In some cases, this “de-Europeanization of Christianity” has contributed to tensions and conflicts around status quo arrangements within and between Christian organizations, to the extent that these continue to privilege historically dominant expressions of Christianity and do not reflect new (non-western) culturally inspired ones.[127]


[70] Statistics Canada defines police-reported hate crimes as “criminal incidents that, upon investigation by police, are determined to have been motivated by hate towards an identifiable group. The incident may target race, colour, national or ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, language, sex, age, mental or physical disability, or other factors such as profession or political beliefs” (Statistics Canada, Police-reported hate crimes, June 7, 2011; www.statcan.gc.ca/daily quotidien/110607/dq110607a-eng.htm). Statistics Canada has collected police-reported hate crime data yearly since 2006. It has only collected comprehensive data covering and comparing all of Canada (99% of the population) since 2010.

[71] The 2012 Statistics Canada study (the first of its kind reporting on hate crimes at the provincial level in all provinces and territories in Canada) showed that the highest rate of hate crime was reported in Ontario (particularly in the Census Metropolitan Areas). The 2011 study showed a 43.2% increase in hate crimes (901 in total) reported in Ontario in 2009 compared to 2008, and a 35% increase in hate crimes reported nationally in 2008 compared to 2007. See 2011 hate crime research based on 2009 data by Dauvergne and Brennan (2011) and Dowden and Brenna (2012) for research based on 2010 data.

[72] According to Statistics Canada, “the largest share of the West Asian population, 43% in 2001, were Iranian, while 20% were Armenian, 12% were Afghan, and 12% were Turks” (Lindsay 2001:9). The majority of Canadians of West Asian origin are Muslims (ibid., p.12).

[73]“A pilot study undertaken by Statistics Canada of hate-crime reports in 12 Canadian police departments,” for instance, “indicated a sharp spike in anti-Muslim (and, oddly, antisemitic) incidents in the year after 9/11” (Seljak et al., 2007, p. 26). The study of hate crime reports of 12 Canadian police forces from major centres found 928 hate-crime incidents during 2001 and 2002, and 43% of these crimes were motivated by religion, second only to race or ethnicity (57%) (Seljak et al., 2007).

[74] See Statistics Canada (2003b) and Seljak et al. (2008) for analysis of survey findings.

[75] See Seljak et al. (2007).

[76] See Sharify-Funk (2011), Emon (2010), and Bramadat (2007).

[77] Quoting Seljak et al., 2008, pp. 13-14, who further observe:

Some argue that Canada is essentially a Christian country and newcomers who are not Christians must learn to adapt to this reality. Others argue that Canada is essentially a secular society – with a strict separation of Church and State – and so it cannot accommodate the religious needs of newcomers without compromising its neutrality.

[78] There is some evidence to suggest that Canadians are growing somewhat weary of multicultural values of inclusion and tolerance and increasingly favour assimilation approaches to dealing with ethnic and religious diversity (see Appendices 24, 25). For instance, a 2005 Pew Global Attitudes Survey found that the distribution of opinion in Canada was markedly more assimilation-oriented than most other OECD countries in the sample, and no different from the United States (see Appendix 27: 2005-2008 World Values Survey on perceived Importance of immigrants “adopting the values of my country”).

[79] The Alberta Human Rights Tribunal case of Randhawa v. Tequila Bar and Grill Ltd, 2008 AHRC 3 (CanLII) involved a turban-wearing Sikh man who was denied entry to a bar because, according to the doorman, the bar “had an image to maintain” and did not want “too many brown people in.” This is just one of many disturbing current examples of intersectional discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity and ancestry. See the OHRC’s Creed case law review for other cases involving intersecting grounds.

[80] Canadian researchers observe that overall, very little scholarly work has been conducted on the types and levels of religious discrimination in Canada (Bramadat, 2007; Seljak, 2012). The data that does exist, disproportionately from opinion surveys, has many methodological limitations, which limit the extent we can draw general conclusions from it. This lack of sophisticated research and data on religious and creed-based demographics, discrimination and intolerance in general leads to serious constraints to informed, evidence-based policy-making. Although the last decade has seen growing interest and attention to religious/creed diversity in policy and research circles, there are still major gaps in basic data.

[81] The 2003 Ethnic Diversity Survey is one of the few studies that looks directly at Canadian experiences and perceptions of religious intolerance and discrimination (Statistics Canada, 2003b). A fairly small proportion of respondents said that they had “experienced discrimination or been treated unfairly” because of their religion. Of the people who reported they experienced discrimination in the last five years, 13% cited religion as a reason (16% for women, 11% for men). Fewer visible minorities (10%) claimed discrimination based on religion, with most citing race and ethnicity as the primary basis (see Appendix N for percentages of visible minority versus non-visible minority Canadians reporting discrimination based on religion). Another recent University of Toronto study by Jeffrey Reitz, Rupa Banerjee, Mai Phan and Jordan Thompson, 2008, p. 15 found visible minority status to be a considerably stronger predictor of economic disadvantage and discrimination than religion. Their study of Statistics Canada’s 2002 Ethnic Diversity Survey found that “[c]onsistent with their membership in visible minority groups, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists experience more disadvantage both objectively in terms of household income and subjectively in terms of reported discrimination and vulnerability” compared to other religious groups with fewer numbers of visible minorities. See Appendices 29 and 30 for the visible minority composition of Canadian religious groups, and objective and reported inequality and discrimination by Canadian racial and religious groups. Reitz et al. (2008) nevertheless qualify their findings by noting that the effects of 9/11 and ensuing religious polarization may not be reflected in the early 2002 census data they analyzed. In fact, the authors predict somewhat different results if the study was repeated today, given religious polarization trends.

[82] For example, Peter Beyer’s (2005) study shows that Muslim Canadians have the second highest educational attainment in Canada (after Jews), which is 10% above the Canadian average. Despite this, “Muslims quite clearly earn less for their level of education” (cited in Seljak et al., 2007). This appears to remain the case for well-educated second-generation Muslims (see also Model and Lin, 2002) study of 1991 census data, which reached similar conclusions; cited in Seljak et al. (2007). Model and Lin, 2002, p. 12 conducted a research study focusing on employment occupation and labour participation rates, and more broadly, “indicators of relative economic well-being of Canada’s religious minorities suggests that Muslims are the most handicapped, with Sikhs not far behind” (p.1083). Such findings led Seljak et al. (2007) to conclude that “[s]hould this situation continue into the second and third generations of the post-1960s surge of Muslim immigrants, we might well see in Canada the development of religious conflict that has marked Europe recently”.

[83] Noting the ways religion is often implicated in “neo-racism,” Balibar, 2007, p. 85 explains::

What we see here is that biological or genetic naturalism is not the only means of naturalizing human behaviour and social affinities…[C]ulture can also function like a nature, and it can in particular function as a way of locking individuals and groups a priori into a genealogy, into a determination that is immutable and intangible in origin.

For more on the distinctive qualities of contemporary “neo racism,” see Barker (1981) on “new racism;” Miles (2003) on “racialization;” Modood (1997) on “cultural racism” and Taguieff (2001) on “differentialist racism.”

[84] The very definition and concept of “racialization” anticipates this possibility. British sociologist Robert Miles provides a theoretical elaboration of the concept of racialization in a way that is not exclusively premised on “biological inherentism” and skin colour. For Miles, racialization involves “signifying processes” that”construct differentiated collectives as races” based on “historically shifting markers of racial otherness.” These may draw on, and intermix with, other -isms (nationalism, ethnicism, etc.) (Miles, 1982, p.170). The concept of “racial articulation” was developed by Miles to help think through such interrelations between exclusionary ideologies and “othering” processes.

[85] Scholars have traced the historical evolution from anti-Judaism or “Judenhass (hatred of Jews as evident in the Persian and Seleucid Empires, and the early Christian Church and Roman Empire denunciation of Jews as “Christ-killers”) to the antisemitic racism of the modern era that made the “Final Solution” possible, based on biologically deterministic ideas of race and nation. German intellectual Wilhelm Marr first coined the term “Antisemitismus” in 1879. Historian Martin Bunzl, 2007, p. 12-13 adds:

Both the term and its attendant ideology were the brainchild of German intellectuals who made the exclusion of Jews the cornerstone of a political and cultural movement. Hatred of Jews long preceded this movement, of course. But prior to the modern period, anti-Judaism operated on religious grounds. Persecution was often vicious, but, in theory at least, Jews could overcome their stigma through conversion. What was new about the late nineteenth century's variant of Jew-hatred was its anchoring in the notion of race. A secular concept grounded in modernity's striving toward rational classification, the idea of race gave Jews an immutable biological destiny. All this was connected to the project of nationalism, with the champions of antisemitism seeing themselves, first and foremost, as guardians of the ethnically pure nation-state. Given their racial difference, Jews could never belong to this national community, no matter their strivings for cultural assimilation

[86] This definition is taken from a 2004 report of the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism
and Xenophobia (EUMC). This was the first comprehensive study of antisemitism in the EU. In 2005, the EUMC (since renamed the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights [FRA]) adopted the following “working definition” of antisemitism, based on this earlier report:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities (cited on the website of the European Forum on Antisemitism at www.european-forum-on-antisemitism.org/working-definition-of-antisemitism/english/; Retrieved May 10, 2013).

Units of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) concerned with combating antisemitism also use the definition, as does the US State Department’s report, Contemporary Global Antisemitism, released earlier this year.

[87] The Ottawa Protocol (2011) reaffirms the EUMC – now Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) –
working definition of antisemitism, which says:

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  • Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective – such as, especially but not exclusively – the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy, or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations (see Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism, 2010).

[88] See supra note 42 for elaboration of the rationale for using the notation of “antisemitism” as opposed
to “anti-Semitism”.

[89] While some view antisemitism as properly only applying to its dominant race-based modern 19th century variant, others highlight continuities and transformations over a long history extending from ancient times to the present.

[90] Ben-Moshe, 2007, p. 108 for instance argues:

The new antisemitism is not “classic” antisemitism directed at Jews because they are foreign and different, but the spilling over of the Israeli-Arab conflict to Jewish communities throughout the world...[It] is aimed at the collective Jewish state, albeit by employing classical antisemitic characteristics…”.

Though its precise characteristics and features remain contested and are evolving, included in the new antisemitism (some call it “Judeophobia”) are things like “singling Israel out for selective condemnation and opprobrium” (quoting the Ottawa Protocol), targeting the state of Israel as a “Jewish collective,” denying Jews the right to national self-determination afforded to others (for instance, by attacking the legitimacy of the state of Israel, or comparing Israel with apartheid South Africa).

[91] While acknowledging how anti-Zionism can take antisemitic forms, the (2004) Report of the European Union’s Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia suggests that only if Jews are targeted “as Jews” is it legitimate to speak of “antisemitism.” Anti-Zionist viewpoints, from this perspective, are only antisemitic if "Israel is seen as being a representative of 'the Jew,'" as opposed to "hostility towards Israel as 'Israel,' i.e. as a country that is criticized for its concrete policies"
(2004 European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia Report, cited in Bunzl, 2007).

[92] See supra note 42 for elaboration of the rationale for using the notation of “antisemitism” as opposed
to “anti-Semitism.”

[93] Partly in recognition of this, in 2009, the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism was established by all four major federal political parties to investigate and combat antisemitism, including new antisemitism.

[94] See bnaibrith.ca/files/audit2011/AUDIT2011.pdf.

[95] B’nai Brith (2012).

[96] Tel Aviv University (2010). Antisemitism Worldwide 2010 General Analysis. Edited by Roni Stauber. The Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism and The Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry. Study cited in Sutcliffe, 2007.

[97] OHRC, 2005, p. 10. The OHRC’s Policy and guidelines on racism and racial discrimination further describes Islamophobia as “[a] contemporary and emerging form of racism in Canada” that “[i]n addition to individual acts of intolerance and racial profiling…leads to viewing Muslims as a greater security threat on an institutional, systemic and societal level”. The Canadian Race Relations Foundation (2013b) similarly defines Islamophobia as “expressions of fear and negative stereotypes, bias or acts of hostility towards the religion of Islam and individual Muslims.”

[98] Definition taken from Netherlands national submission as part of an unpublished 2002 European
Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) study cited in Allen, 2010, p. 134. Named the RAREN 3 data collection project, the EUMC did this study in late 2001 and early 2002, to establish universally accepted definitions for “racism,” “xenophobia,” “antisemitism” and “Islamophobia.” It involved surveying EU member states for their definitions.

[99] British Runnymede Trust (1997), cited in Jamil, 2012, p. 65.

[100] The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia commissioned Allen and Jorgen S. Nielsen to co-author its Summary report on Islamophobia in the EU after 11 September 2001, 2010, p. 190. Allen continues to lead government sponsored research on Islamophobia in the UK, and internationally. He defines Islamophobia as

An ideology, similar in theory, function and purpose to racism and other similar phenomena, that sustains and perpetuates negatively evaluated meaning about Muslims and Islam in the contemporary setting in similar ways to that which it has historically, although not necessarily as a continuum, subsequently pertaining, influencing and impacting upon social action, interaction, response and so on, shaping and determining understanding, perceptions and attitudes in the social consensus - the shared languages and conceptual maps - that inform and construct thinking about Muslims and Islam as Other. .. As a consequence of this, exclusionary practices - practices that disadvantage, prejudice or discriminate against Muslims and Islam in social, economic and political spheres, including the subjection to violence – are in evidence. For such to be Islamophobia however, an acknowledged 'Muslim' or 'Islamic' element - either explicit or implicit, overtly expressed or covertly hidden, or merely even nuanced through meanings that are 'theological', 'social', 'cultural', 'racial' and so on, that at times never even necessarily name or identify 'Muslims' or 'Islam' - must be present.

Though cumbersome and unwieldy in its definition, Allen arguably advances the analytical purchase
of the concept by moving away from definitions that:

  • hinge on distinguishing between “open” or “closed,” “true” or “false” representations of Islam (which tend to engender a fractious, but largely irrelevant, politics of authenticity, i.e. “real Islam says…”)
  • do not distinguish between effects and causes of Islamophobia and other related phenomenon (either reducing it, or ignoring its relationship to racism, xenophobia, orientalism, etc.)
  • treat Islamophobia in a social and historical vacuum, either over-generalizing or failing to see connections beyond a specific event or issue in time;
  • do not elaborate the precise “ideological” and discursive mechanisms for sustaining and perpetuating it.

[101] Zine, 2004, p. 113. Zine, a professor of sociology at Wilfrid Laurier University, argues: “to capture the complex dimensions through which Islamophobia operates, it is necessary to extend the definition from its limited conception as a ‘fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims’ and acknowledge that these attitudes are intrinsically linked to individual, ideological, and systemic forms of oppression that support the logic and rationale of specific power relations”.

[102] Questions include: to what extent are the tenets of Islam actually a focus of Islamophobes, and to
what extent are Muslims or Arabs or South Asians as a people targeted, no matter what their beliefs? How can a highly multi-ethnic religious community that does not share biological descent be the subject of racism? Meer and Modood, 2010, p. 77 argue that “while it is true that “Muslim” is not a (putative) biological category in the way that “Black” or “south Asian” (aka “Paki”), or Chinese is, neither was “Jew”:
In that instance it took a long non-linear history of racialization to turn an ethno-religious group into a race.” Similarly, “Bosnian Muslims were “ethnically cleansed” because they came to be identified as a “racial” group by people who were phenotypically, linguistically and culturally the same as themselves”. Meer and Modood, 2010, p. 82 go on to observe how “it is frequently stated that while gender, racial and sexuality based identities are ascribed or involuntary categories of birth, being a Muslim is about chosen beliefs, and that Muslims therefore need or ought to have less legal protection than these other kinds of identities. What this ignores, however… is that people do not choose to be or not to be born into a Muslim family. Similarly, no one chooses to be born into a society where to look like a Muslim or to be a Muslim invites suspicion and hostility, and this logically parallels the kinds of racial discrimination directed at other minorities…”.

[103] Most agree that while current-day Islamophobia has distinct features, it draws upon a reservoir of discourses, images and hostile stereotypes from a much longer European historical encounter with Islam.

[104] Both quantitative and qualitative studies to date show increasing levels of anti-Muslim prejudice.

Much of this research is based on opinion polls and surveys. A report by the Toronto Police Service showed a 66% increase in hate crimes in Toronto in 2001, with the largest increase being against Muslims (Zine, 2004). Incidents reported that year included: the stabbing of a Muslim man; the beating and and hospitalization of a 15-year-old boy; attempts by drivers to run down Muslim women as they crossed the street; threats to Mosques and Islamic schools; and in Hamilton, not far from Toronto, the firebombing of a Hindu temple that was mistaken for a mosque (Zine, 2004). Another Ipsos Reid poll found that 60% of people surveyed felt there was increased discrimination against Muslims compared
to 10 years ago (Chung, 2011; cited in Jamil, 2012). For more qualitative research on Islamophobia see Jamil (2012) and Perry and Poynting (2006). Further qualitative research on Islamophobia in Canada was being conducted by Dr. Barbara Perry in 2012, including an unpublished (at the time) year-long study on the rise of incidents of hate-based attacks against Muslims.

[105] Ihsaan Gardee, Executive Director of CAIR-CAN, commented on three recurring myths encountered
in the Canadian context: (1) Muslims are monolithic – they all believe, practice and manifest in the same way; (2) Muslims are trying to undermine democratic institutions and pose a threat to society; (3) there
is a necessary link between hate and Islam (e.g. Islam as hateful towards women, LGBT minorities,
non-Muslims, etc.).

[106] For example, in a 2006-2007 Environics Canada survey, the most comprehensive of its kind, 28% of the general Canadian population sampled believed that “most” or “many” Canadians are hostile towards Muslims (Adams, 2009, p.23). Thirty-eight percent of the 2,000 Canadians surveyed said their impression of Islam was negative. Security concerns were evident in such assessments as most respondents viewed a terrorist attack perpetrated by Canadians with a Muslim background as either very (19%) or somewhat (40%) likely.

A diverse range of later opinion polls and surveys show growing levels of animosity towards Muslims, who were generally perceived to be the least trusted and the most disliked of all religious, ethnic or racial groups among the general Canadian population. For example, in a (2007) Léger Marketing Poll commissioned by Sun Media, only 53% of the 3,000+ Canadian adults surveyed between December 2006 and January 2007 said they held a positive view of the Arab community, lower than that for the Black (70%) or Jewish (76%) communities (Léger Marketing 2007). A (2008) poll of 1,522 Canadians conducted by Léger Marketing on behalf of the Association for Canadian Studies and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation showed similar results (Hill, 2012; see also Jedwab, 2008). An equivalent phone survey would have a margin of error of 2.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20. When asked how much they trusted Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Aboriginal people, immigrants and Muslims, the overall “total trust” scores for the five groups (using a combination of rankings for “trusted a lot” and “trusted somewhat”) were: Protestants 71%, Catholics 70%, Jews 69%, Aboriginals 64%, immigrants 64% and Muslims 48% (with mistrust levels of Muslims being highest for older Canadians). People aged 18-24 gave Muslims
the highest rating for trustworthiness, and people over 65 gave Muslims the lowest rating. A November (2010) Angus Reid Public Opinion online survey asked 1,006 randomly selected Canadian adults if Canada is tolerant or intolerant towards nine different groups (Angus-Reid, 2008). One-third of respondents (33%) thought that Canadian society was intolerant towards Muslims, the highest of all categories (followed by Aboriginal Canadians and immigrants from South Asia). See Appendix 31 for more on findings. When this same poll asked who is most disliked in Canada, Muslims came out on top
at 33%, followed by immigrants from India and Pakistan (24%), Africa (16%) and China (10%).

Another 2011 survey conducted by the Association of Canadian Studies found that 43%, or less than half of the 2,345 people polled, expressed "very positive" or "somewhat positive" perceptions of Muslims (Boswell, 2011; cited in Jamil, 2012).

[107] See Allen (2010) focusing on the UK context in this respect.

[108] The 2006-2007 Environics Focus Canada Survey survey found that 55% of Canadians thought banning Muslim headscarves (of any kind) was a bad idea, compared to 57% of Americans and 62% of Britons (Adams, 2009). Thirty-six percent called the ban a good idea. Environics surveyed 500 Canadian Muslims, as well as 2,000 members of the Canadian general public, to gain comparative insight into attitudes towards and about the integration of Muslims in Canada, inspired by a parallel study conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes project in France, Spain, Germany and Great Britain. The survey of Canadian Muslims took place from November 30, 2006 to January 5, 2007, while the general population survey occurred between December 8 and December 30, 2006 (Adams, 2009).

Interestingly, when asked whether they thought most Muslims wanted to “adopt Canadian customs and way of life” or “be distinct from the larger Canadian society,” a modest majority (55%) of Muslims said they believed most Muslims wanted to adopt Canadian customs. Among the general population, just a quarter of all Canadians (25%) believed that most Muslims are interested in adopting Canadian customs, and a majority (57%) believed that Muslims wish to remain distinct. Seven percent of the general public believed Muslim Canadians are interested in both integrating and remaining distinct (Adams 2009). Canada had the second greatest disparity between the opinions of the Muslim community and the general population of all five countries surveyed (including France, Germany, Britain and Spain). This finding may show that many Canadians associate wearing such outer religious symbols as the hijab with a failure or resistance to adapt to “Canadian customs and norms” (versus merely expressing “reasonable” security and identification concerns as often portrayed). Retaining both cultural distinctness and adapting to Canadian norms was rarely seen as an option – an either/or approach dominated the perceived realm of possibilities.

[109] Though not explicitly stated, Bill 94 takes specific aim at Muslim women who wear the niqab (full-face veil) in public, for avowed concerns around security, communication and identification.

[110] Sharify-Funk (2011). The 2010 Angus Reid poll also found 95% of Quebecers supported the Bill. Overall, men were more likely to support the Bill than women (83% vs. 77%), and people over 55 were more likely than those under 35 (86% vs. 69%). The Bill received wide public support from people like Prime Minister Harper (“the law...makes sense”) and Michael Ignatieff (who spoke of sensible compromise). Mario Conseco, vice president of public affairs for Angus Reid, noted that “it is very rare to have such a high level of public support for a government measure,” further noting that “such breadth of consensus suggests a turning point: a moment at which Canadians are reaching the limits of our vaunted self-image as tolerant and inclusive” (cited in Sharify-Funk, 2011, p.146.

[111] As was found in the 2006 Environics Canada Survey, the 2011 Focus Canada Survey by the Environics Institute found that the Canadian public is most likely to feel that Muslims experience discrimination (often or sometimes). This survey was based on telephone interviews with a representative sample of 1,500 Canadians (aged 18 and over) between November 21 and December 14, 2011. The survey sample, stratified to ensure coverage of all 10 provinces, reflects the population by age cohort, gender and community size. The results from a survey of this size drawn from the population are expected to produce results accurate to within plus or minus 2.5%, in 95 out of 100 samples.

[112] The youngest cohort of Canadian Muslims was the most likely to report an experience of discrimination in the 2006-2007 Environics Canada survey: 42% of people aged 18 to 29 reported such an experience, 11 points above the Muslim average (Adams, 2009). Women were also more likely than men to say they had been discriminated against, a trend in part linked to their greater visibility when wearing headscarves (hijab) or face veils (niqab) identifying them as Muslim (Adams, 2009; see also Jamil, 2011).

[113] A 2002 national survey by the Canadian branch of the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN) – entitled “Canadian Muslims One Year After 9-11” - showed that Muslims felt they were increasingly the targets of religious discrimination following 9/11. Fifty-six percent of respondents reported experiencing anti-Muslim incidents in the year after 9/11. Verbal abuse accounted for 33% of incidents, racial profiling accounted for 18% and workplace discrimination for 16% (cited in Council for American-Islamic Relations Canada, 2004, p. 6).

[114] Jamil, (2012).

[115] Husaini (1990).

[116] Unlike classical antisemitism and other modern forms of racism that questioned racialised others’ “fitness for inclusion in the national community...in the interest of national purification,” Bunzl, 2007, p. 13 comments on the contemporary European situation: “Islamophobes are not particularly worried whether Muslims can be good Germans, Italians, or Danes. Rather, they question whether Muslims can be good Europeans”, to which we could add, citizens of western secular liberal democracies more broadly.

[117] See for instance Thomas (2009).

[118] Calhoun, 2008, p. 7. The emergence and propagation of a more closed and rigid ”ideological secularism” in Canada and elsewhere, as noted in the 2008 Bouchard-Taylor Commission report among other research, has in part been a response to global religious resurgence, the “War on Terror” and increasing religious diversity and non-western immigrant presences in major western metropolitan centres.

[119] Quoting Bramadat, 2007, p. 121. From this reductive perspective, Bramadat notes, “all acts of altruism, kindness, creativity and human solidarity one sees in religion are treated as illusions oriented toward duping outsiders and insiders” (ibid.; see also Seljak et al., 2007).

[120] Noting an upsurge in anti-immigrant rhetoric positioning religion as a barrier to immigrant integration, Seljak et al. (2007) envisions:

[A]nti-immigration – and worse anti-immigrant discourse – will increasingly be constructed in terms of the need of a putatively secular, democratic, egalitarian and enlightened society needing to protect itself from religious communities identified with immigrant populations and imagined as regressive, anti-democratic, authoritarian and irrational.

Using supposedly democratic and egalitarian ideals to socially exclude ethno-racial and religious minorities is a classic example of what Henry and Tator (2009) call “democratic racism”. They describe democratic racism as “the most appropriate model for understanding how and why racism continues in Canada.” They broadly define democratic racism as an ideology that permits and sustains people’s ability in Canada to maintain and reconcile two apparently conflicting sets of values: (1) liberal democratic values and principles such as justice, equality and fairness, and (2) non-egalitarian values that reflect and sanction negative feelings, attitudes and discriminatory behaviours towards minority racial groups.

[121] This trend has been noted in recent high-profile religious minority accommodation cases in public life, in areas like congregational prayers in school, kirpans in schoolyards and courtrooms, equally funding religious schools, or faith-based family mediation (see Seljak et al., 2008). Some incidents and reservations initially involved Muslims and a perceived threat of “Islamicisation,” but eventually led to criticism of religious practice in public more generally. As a result, previously unquestioned accommodation of religious minorities across the religion spectrum are now being challenged. An example of this is the recent controversy following media reports of congregational Muslim prayers in a Toronto-area public middle school. Bromberg (2012) observes how the ensuing public debate resulted in public comments about ending rentals of facilities to Jewish and other faith groups for after-school religious activities. Bromberg, 2012, pp. 62-63 further notes how public misunderstanding about the fundamental purpose and rationale for reasonable accommodation is “creating a climate of animosity and mistrust towards new immigrants, as well as existing cultural/religious communities.” Also, “new demands that seem to threaten established ways or norms are resulting in a pull back against publicly accepted rights that the Jewish community and other groups have enjoyed”.

[122] More than one participant expressed this view at the January 2012 OHRC Policy Dialogue on Creed Human Rights at the University of Toronto’s Multi-faith Centre. A 2013 episode of CBC’s “Cross-Country Check-Up” also prominently featured the view that Christian Canadians were now viewed and treated as second-class citizens in the public sphere and dominant institutions, particularly when compared to those identified as more secular. (Sunday March 3, 2013 edition, “Does religion have a place in public life?”).

[123] In many instances, women’s bodies and comportment have become a major area for playing out social conflicts within and between minority and majority communities, with men (and some women) in both communities vying for control. An example here is the recurring political and media debate over Muslim women wearing head scarves (see, for instance, Banerjee & Coward, 2005; Sharify-Funk, 2011).

[124] See Shipley (2012).

[125] Some case law examples showing religious diversity and conflict within similar communities (either race or religion) include conflicts between:

  • SIkhs of a higher (Jat) caste claiming discriminatory exclusion from a religious organization led by those of a lower (Ravidassi or Chamar) caste; Sahota and Shergill v. Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha Temple, 2008 BCHRT 269 (CanLII)
  • an Aboriginal Catholic employee alleging that the Aboriginal Executive Director was biased towards Aboriginal Catholics due to Canada’s residential school history; MacDonald v. Anishnawbe Health Toronto, 2010 HRTO 329 (CanLII)
  • a Jewish kosher caterer who is not “orthodox or shomer Shabbat” alleging that a Jewish kosher certifying organization treated him differently than if he had been orthodox; Rill v. Kashruth Council of Canada, 2008 HRTO 162 (CanLII)
  • a Muslim travel agent imposing different requirements for getting a hajj visa to travel to Saudi Arabia on the basis that African Muslims overstay their visas; Tulul v. King Travel Can, 2011 HRTO 438 (CanLII).

[126] See Beyer (2008), as discussed in endnote 20.

[127] See Bramadat (2007). Ethnic and racial tensions were recently shown in a demographically transforming Toronto-area church, where the leadership became divided along racial lines, with newer and more numerous visible minority congregation members claiming discrimination by the older, white church establishment.