More than half of Canadians mistrust Muslims, poll says

More than half of all Canadians believe Muslims can’t be trusted and nearly as many believe discrimination against Muslims is “mainly their fault,” according to the results of a new national survey released ahead of Wednesday’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The online poll of 1,522 Canadians, commissioned by the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies and Toronto-based Canadian Race Relations Foundation, also highlights how Canadians see the Internet as by far the leading conduit for racism in the country, and that more than one-third of respondents say they’ve “witnessed a racist incident” in the past year.

ACS executive director Jack Jedwab described the results as a “disturbing” sign that racism not only remains a problem in the country but that many Canadians feel comfortable holding transparently discriminatory views, then saying things like: “If we feel this way about you, it’s your fault.”

Ayman Al-Yassini, executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, said the findings provide more reasons to promote better inter-faith and inter-cultural relations and to “build bridges among different communities” in Canada to combat discrimination. “This is also more evidence that the Internet has become the major vehicle for spreading hatred and prejudice,” he said.

The data was gathered via web panel over the past weekend, March 17-18, by the polling firm Leger Marketing. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Asked if Muslims can be trusted, a countrywide total of 52 per cent of respondents said either “not at all” or only “a little.” Conversely, 48 per cent of those surveyed said they trusted Muslims “a lot” or “somewhat.”

No other group asked about in the survey registered such low levels of trustworthiness. Overall, 71 per cent of respondents expressed significant levels of trust in Protestants, 70 per cent trusted Catholics, 69 per cent trusted Jews, 64 per cent trusted aboriginal Canadians and 63 per cent trusted immigrants.

Among French Canadians – who regularly register stronger negative responses than English Canadians do toward Muslims – 70 per cent of those surveyed expressed little or no trust in Muslims, compared with 43 per cent of English speakers who said they felt that way.

On the question of who deserves blame for such negative feelings, Muslims again fared significantly worse than other groups in Canadian society.

Forty-two per cent of respondents said they agreed (either “strongly” or “somewhat”) with the statement: “If there is discrimination against Muslims, it is mainly their fault.”

By comparison, 36 per cent of those surveyed said aboriginal Canadians were mainly responsible for any discrimination directed toward them, while respondents considered Jewish Canadians (26 per cent), homosexual Canadians (20 per cent) and Black Canadians (19 per cent) less responsible for the discrimination they suffer.

Pointing to the strongly negative perception towards aboriginal Canadians on that question, Al-Yassini said “we shouldn’t forget that when it comes to anti-racism campaigns, the aboriginal dimension should be upfront and centre.”

Jedwab said he believes the other key finding from the survey offers a clue about why such negative views about Muslims and other some groups continue to pervade the mindset of many Canadians. When asked about where racism finds a home in Canadian society, respondents overwhelmingly identified the Internet as the leading source of discriminatory expression in the country.

Respondents were asked: “Where do you think that racism is most present?” Forty-nine per cent listed the Internet as the No. 1 place for racist views, followed by radio/television (19 per cent), friends and family (11 per cent), work or school (eight per cent), newspapers (eight per cent) and “my neighbourhood” (six per cent).

Jedwab said the relatively “unfettered character” of communication via the Internet may be reinforcing, spreading and amplifying negative impressions of various groups in Canada, though particularly Muslims.

While traditional newspapers, for example, tend to block out harsh or extreme views from public view, he said, many media websites and other online portals create a virtual “free-for-all” for public comments that can fuel intolerance.

Contributions to online discussions “are not always vetted,” said Jedwab, and hot topics can generate “500 comments in the place of a few hours.” Even as governments and organizations like the Canadian Race Relations Foundations work to “sensitize” people to the problem of racism, the Internet is swirling with “pejorative commentary,” he said.

At the same time, Jedwab noted, real-time streams of online commentary include contributions from people who are quick to denounce racist views and urge over-the-top writers to “calm down.”

But overall, he said, he fears poorly monitored websites are “giving more legitimacy to hostile expression.”

Postmedia News, 20 March 2012