The number of Muslims in Canada is not nearly what Canadians imagine it to be.
In the aftermath of this month’s terrorist attacks in France, last week The Economist reviewed the gap between the imagined and real sizes of Muslim populations in European countries. They found Europeans wildly overestimate the proportion of their populations that are Muslims. So what’s the Canadian case?
Whether born of xenophobic angst or pluralist exuberance, the average figure given by Canadians when asked for Muslims’ share of the general population is 20 per cent, according to a survey conducted last autumn by Ipsos Reid (with a margin of error of 3.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20). This imagined figure exceeds the actual one — 3.2 per cent — sixfold.
Canada … does not have any major political constituency devoted to the mistrust or hatred of religious minorities. In fact, all of the major political parties are quite explicitly committed to the inclusion and tolerance of minority groups.
“People who hold mythical ideas of Muslims in the West — including the one which holds that they’re expanding at an exponential pace and are poised to become a majority — (are not) necessarily racists or bigots or xenophobes,” says Doug Saunders, author of The Myth of the Muslim Tide. Instead, they are “often ordinary Canadians confused by the newcomers around them” and easily swayed by media narratives of a “large and fast-growing population that is not loyal to the countries it inhabits or refuses to integrate.”
Ontario, the province with the highest average guess in the Ipsos Reid survey — over 25 per cent — has the highest actual percentage of Muslims, but even this is just 4.6 per cent.
The greatest relative overestimation is in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where the combined average guess — inflated perhaps by the prairies’ emerging status as a preferred destination for immigrants, or maybe just too much Little Mosque on the Prairie — is 20 per cent, but in the 2011 census Muslims accounted for just one per cent of the population in both provinces.
And Quebec, wrought last year by debate over a proposed Charter of Values, spurred in large part by the presumed cultural threat of a ‘Muslim tide’, is just 3.1 per cent Muslim, although the average Quebecer thinks the figure to be above 17 per cent.
These popular overestimations are unlikely to affect Canadian federal politics in the foreseeable future, according to Saunders, as “Canada … does not have any major political constituency devoted to the mistrust or hatred of religious minorities. In fact, all of the major political parties are quite explicitly committed to the inclusion and tolerance of minority groups.”
“All the major parties want to get Canadians of immigrant descent to vote for them and to become loyal adherents to the party. The Conservatives have put a lot of effort into becoming the party of diversity; Harper and Kenney spend a lot of time at Sikh temples and Muslim gatherings.”
The gap between actual Muslim Canadians and those who exist only in the public imagination is over 5.5 million people — roughly equal the population of Toronto. Fears of Islam’s demographic triumph are greatly exaggerated.
Re-published with permission and under arrangement with iPolitics.ca.