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Canadians like to think of their country as a model for the world of how all sorts of people can get along together.
But when it comes to the major faiths other than Christianity, a new poll conducted for Maclean’s finds that many Canadians harbour deeply troubling biases. Although by now it might seem an ingrained national creed, fewer than one in three Canadians can find it in their hearts to view Islam or Sikhism in a favourable light. Canadians may embrace it in theory, but only a minority say they would find it acceptable if one of their kids came home engaged to a Muslim, Hindu or Sikh. There’s not enough to prevent media images of war and terrorism from convincing almost half of Canadians that mainstream Islam encourages violence.
“Air India has had a very lasting negative legacy for the Sikh community,” Shergill said.
“The majority of imagery of Sikhs in the media typically associates the community with that sort of violence.” Patient work trying to overcome the widespread view of Sikhs as dangerous seemed to be paying off, she said—until recently.
But as federal policy strives to encourage newcomers to put down roots and fit in, the poll highlights an equal need for the Canadian majority to take a hard look at its distorted preconceptions about religious minorities.
“It astonishes and saddens me as a Canadian,” said Angus Reid chief research officer Andrew Grenville, who has been probing Canadians’ views on religion for 16 years.
But Ouellet said the boy didn’t use his kirpan, the small symbolic dagger many Sikh men carry.
Palbinder Shergill, a Vancouver lawyer who has long represented the World Sikh Organization of Canada on legal matters, said she might have expected such negative opinions about Sikhism in the 1990s.
Back then, the 1985 Air India bombing, the work of Sikh separatist terrorists, was still a fresh memory.
“It tells me,” Farber said, “that our journey from intolerance to tolerance, to where we can actually celebrate each other’s cultures, is elusive.” From the perspective of Sikhs and, especially, Muslims, that’s putting it mildly.
When asked if they thought “the mainstream beliefs” of the major religions “encourage violence or are mostly peaceful,” only 10 per cent said they thought Christianity teaches violence.
At the other end of the spectrum, Islam scored the lowest favourability rating, just 28 per cent.