On one issue, Canadians are a lot less tolerant than Americans - Macleans.ca

On one issue, Canadians are a lot less tolerant than Americans

A new survey shows Canadians are more likely than Americans to favour banning Muslim women from wearing head scarfs in public

Demonstrators hold signs as they protest against Quebec's proposed Charter of Values in Montreal, September 14, 2013. Thousands took to the streets to denounce the province's proposed bill to ban the wearing of any overt religious garb by government paid employees. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

Demonstrators hold signs as they protest against Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values in Montreal, September 14, 2013. Thousands took to the streets to denounce the province’s proposed bill to ban the wearing of any overt religious garb by government paid employees. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

Many Canadians pride themselves on being more multicultural and less suspicious of minorities than Americans, but new public opinion research being aired today in Montréal at a McGill Institute for the Study of Canada conference finds that Canadians are more likely than Americans to favour banning Muslim women from wearing their head scarfs in public places.

Université du Québec à Montréal political science professor Allison Harell presented a raft of results from a recent online survey of 1,600 Canadians and 1,800 Americans that tried to probe views related to the upswing of populism in the U.S., including attitudes towards the powers of government and the rights of minorities.

Perhaps not surprisingly, she found the familiar national traits of Canadian deference to public institutions and American suspicion of them borne out overall. “In general Americans are a little bit more fearful of government surveillance, they are a little bit more supportive of free-speech rights, regardless of the group, than Canadians are,” Harell said in an interview.

For instance, she found that 73 per cent of Canadians agree that “it should be illegal to say hateful things publicly about racial, ethnic and religious groups,” whereas only 55 per cent of Americans accepted limiting free speech when it turns hateful. Canadians are more inclined to accept the notion that career politicians, rather than “the people,” should make important policy decisions.

When it comes to issues around personal privacy and government surveillance, Harell’s research found that by far the majority of both Canadians and Americans don’t like the ideas of property being searched or telephone calls tapped without a warrant. But interestingly, and perhaps troublingly for a lot of Canadians, differences arise when it comes to opinion on policies directed at Muslims.

Among Canadians, 47 per cent would ban Muslim head scarfs in public, compared with just 30 per cent of Americans. As well, 51 per cent of Canadians like the idea of monitoring what happens in mosques, compared with 46 per cent of Americans.



Harell said she found the apparent contrast between Canadian and U.S. opinion on Muslims so striking that she dug into her data further to try to find the source of the differences. A key factor is sentiment in Quebec, where the so-called Charter of Values proposed by the Parti Quebecois would have forced provincial public servants to remove religious symbols like hijabs during work hours, had the PQ’s polarizing proposal not died when they lost the 2014 election to the Liberals.

According to Harell’s research, fully 66 per cent of Quebecers would ban head scarfs, compared with 38 per cent in the rest of Canada, while 67 per cent of Quebecers approve of monitoring mosques, far more than the 44 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec who share that opinion. Still, even with the Quebec respondents taken out of the mix, more Canadians than Americans would ban Muslim head scarfs in public places.


Canadians looking south at the U.S. debate over President Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries might assume that sort of idea would be inconceivable in Canada. And perhaps the political dynamic in Ottawa wouldn’t allow such a move to get any traction, but the public opinion climate, as Harell’s research suggests, might be more receptive than progressive Canadians like to imagine.


On one issue, Canadians are a lot less tolerant than Americans

  1. Yup, it always comes down to a woman’s clothing.

    The world spends more time worrying about that than any other subject..

    As if it made the slightest toss of difference.

    • Most of these polls are politically driven.

    • It isn’t the world, Quebeckers completely skew the polling results. Your inability to deal with the reality that 8 million Quebeckers treat the 250 thousand Muslims that live in their province with suspicion, fear and what is tantamount to hatred is quite pathetic. You can admit that Canadians are racist toward First Nations but you cannot admit that Quebeckers are racist toward anybody who isn’t French.

      • Who are you talking to??

  2. You can always be reassured that pollsters know the best time to do polls, it’s when people are angry from populist rantings by populist politicians, it’s one of the best click baits on the market. It creates a mob mentality approach in our society, and pollsters can sometimes traffic in this toxic kind of polling.

  3. This sounds sketchy. Could it be that there’s been a mixup between head scarves (hijab) and veils (niqab)? I could see 47% of Canadians having an issue with veils (or other face covering clothing), but not so with head scarves. And the ‘in public places’ part adds to the sketchiness. Again, I could *possibly* see a significant percentage of people objecting to government employees wearing head scarves in customer facing work environments. But, 47% objecting to someone wearing a head scarf as they go to the park, shop for groceries, etc, etc? That just stretches credulity.

    • Look at the province that is skewing the results and then ask yourself if there was a misunderstanding. This is a province that won’t allow people to speak English in the workplace and you doubt, they want to allow Muslim women to wear head scarfs….come on. Why do you think Justin Trudeau insisted on answering a question put to him in English by an Anglophone about a lack of English mental health services in French? Like he said, he wants to ensure that he is promoting the French language in Quebec because to do otherwise is political suicide.

  4. If we Canadians think that we don’t have to worry about hate and racism and sexism, think again.

    I don’t worry about the polls unless I can study the pollsters’ methodologies. I worry more about what I hear from my neighbours. Talk to each other, and you will find that our supposedly tolerant country is not nearly as tolerant as we would hope. If we don’t see what’s happening here, we won’t be able to stop it in time.

    We are not superior to our American friends, although we’d like to think so.

    Each of us must get informed and active today, or we will lose our country to hate, fear and tyranny. None of us, white males included, can afford the privilege of being inactive.

    Whether you agree with your neighbour or not, do what you can to protect our rights and freedoms, even for those who don’t agree with us.

    It is far too easy to hate.

    • Just look what propaganda based on hate, fear and hyperbole accomplished for Gobbels and Hitler in pre-WWII Germany. If it weren’t for people like Churchill, they might have convinced the world of the righteousness of their rhetoric. Weak minds are easily lead astray.

  5. I don’t believe it. It’s the wording. Most Canadians oppose a face-cover, not a scarf. But the question invites inaccurate responses. Ask me if I oppose a face-covering and I would be somewhat negative. I rely on my instincts. I need to see the face I am talking to. But a scarf? It’s like opposing baldness – no one does, no one cares and this report is stupid.

    • Exactly – I have the same aversion to someone wrapped up in scarves to protect from a cold winter day – if they are not outside experiencing the cold directly, the polite thing is to remove the scarves when you are meeting/greeting someone. Except for Halloween I expect, in Canada, to see someone’s face.

      I don’t care one bit about head coverings – I grew up in a community where every old woman wore a headscarf – it was called a babushka – nobody cared. And I suspect the vast majority of Canadians feel the same way – face coverings are another thing completely.

  6. It’s not just about clothing, it is about symbols and what powerful symbols can represent. These aren’t surprising research results. Why wouldn’t we be intolerant of the symbol (hijab) that we in the West have been told and taught, through the media (i.e the glimpse of this sentiment in the Maclean’s article on the Shafia honour killings) and testimonials from former Muslims (Ayaan Hirsi Ali comes to mind), represents the oppression of females? Canada is actually progressive in gender equality, so supporting what can be seen as a symbol of misogyny (yes even if women “choose” to wear it) under the guise of multiculturalism can be for some people in opposition to core values, as it is a symbol we have been taught reduces females to simply their gender.

  7. Multiculturalism is hypothetical.