Study examines impact of Quebec’s Bill 21

The senior southeast Asian woman with hijab standing on the blue background

York University Professor Nadia Hasan, in collaboration with the National Council of Canadian Muslims, has published a new study called “Social Discord and Second-class Citizenship” that examines how legislation passed in Quebec has negatively impacted the lives and careers of Muslim women.

Nadia Hasan
Nadia Hasan

Bill 21, a legislation enacted in 2019, prohibits Quebec public servants – teachers, law enforcement officers, prosecutors and others – from wearing religious symbols like the hijab, turban or kippah while at work.

Given the implications of the bill, Hasan, who joined York U’s School of Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies last year, sought to better understand the impact the bill has had on the lives of Muslims and other religious minorities in Quebec since its inception.

After conducting in-depth interviews with 10 Muslim women, surveying 411 Quebec Muslim women and 750 other individuals in the general Quebec population, and drawing on information from Canadian market research company Abacus Data, a clear conclusion – shared in the published study – emerged: “Bill 21 systematically corners Muslim women into vulnerable positions as second-class citizens,” says Hasan. “This study is one of the largest of its kind and it contributes to a mounting body of evidence that illustrates the clearly damaging and harmful impacts of Bill 21.”

Per the findings in the report, Muslim women are experiencing heightened levels of stress and discriminatory treatment from colleagues due to the legislation, in ways that leave many facing a difficult decision between their religious beliefs and their professional careers.

“This important study provides compelling evidence for the real and negative impact of Law 21 on Muslim women living in Quebec, especially regarding access to the job market and career advancement opportunities, mental health, rise in verbal and physical aggressions, and gender equality,” says Professor Amelie Barras from the Department of Social Science, who was an external advisory committee member on the study.

“When you take away people’s rights, when you legislate and legitimize discrimination against them, it is not surprising to find that their lives have deteriorated in multiple ways,” says Hasan 

The negative impact of the bill isn’t limited to individuals, either, the study finds. As many Muslim women are contemplating relocating from the province to seek better opportunities elsewhere, this potential exodus could result in billions of dollars of income loss for Quebec.

“The study shows that these negative consequences are far from being limited to women working in public services affected by the law, but extend to Quebec society at large, affecting both public and private sectors,” says Barras.

The study ends with 11 recommendations to help mitigate the impact of Bill 21, but for Hasan, the hope is the report will help advance what she believes is the most important outcome. “The only real solution is to repeal it,” she says.