Canadians fear Muslim, Christian tensions: survey 

Canadians believe that the country's traditional French-English tensions will be overshadowed by friction between Christians and Muslims when Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary a decade from now, according to a survey of attitudes on intercultural and interfaith relations by the Association for Canadian Studies.

Of the 1,500 people polled, 34% said they were pessimistic about the future of Christian-Muslim relations and another 29% expected tense interaction between aboriginal Canadians and non-aboriginals by the year 2017.

Respondents were much more optimistic that white Canadians and visible minorities, as well and Christians and Jews, would enjoy good relations in 10 years. Only 16% and 14% respectively were pessimistic about those relationships, similar to the 19% who predicted troublesome French-English relations by the time Canada reaches the sesquicentennial of Confederation.

Twenty-three per cent said they were pessimistic about the relationship between religious and secular Canadians, and 22% were pessimistic about immigrant-non-immigrant relations.

"For the most part, the results reflect a fair degree of optimism," said Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Montreal-based research association. "They do, however, suggest a shift in concerns away from language and inter-racial tensions to concerns over aboriginal-non-aboriginal and interfaith relations --in particular relations between Christians and Muslims."

He noted the Christian-Muslim relationship is a complex dynamic involving religious and cultural differences, highlighted by such flashpoint controversies as the debate over Sharia law and the expulsion of a female soccer player for wearing a hijab.

"Can you argue that this [tension] has displaced language concerns in Canada?" he asks. "I think you can to some extent."

The telephone poll, conducted in early June by Leger Marketing, is part of a series of public opinion surveys and studies commissioned by the ACS to mark Canada's 140th birthday yesterday.

Mr. Jedwab said the survey on intercultural relations highlights a clear "paradigm shift" in Canadian anxieties from the traditional French-English divide to post-9/11 apprehensions about security on one hand and, on the other, racial profiling and similarly controversial practices that have stirred vocal opposition among Muslim Canadians.

Those tensions have been most pronounced in Quebec, the survey shows. It is the only province in which more respondents were pessimistic (49%) than optimistic (47%) about the future of Christian-Muslim relations.

"Muslims are more of a focal point in Quebec," said Mr. Jedwab, citing the relatively high rate of Arab immigration to the province, the greater attention in Quebec given to the conflicts in France and other European countries with their Muslim communities, the broader rejection of religion in Quebec society compared with other provinces and the province's high-profile debate over "reasonable accommodation" of its religious minorities -- highlighted by controversies such as the town of Herouxville's "code of conduct" stereotyping of Islamic culture.