VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Days after Jagmeet Singh was chosen as head of the federal NDP, a new poll finds three in 10 of us would not vote for a national leader who wears a turban and carries a kirpan.
And while a majority of Canadians believe Singh’s historic win is good for the country, many aren’t so sure about their family and friends.
Angus Reid finds seven in 10 Canadians would consider voting for a national leader who is visibly Sikh, but half believe “most” or “some” of their own family and friends couldn’t do it.
“There’s something of a conflict or dichotomy between what people say about themselves and what they say about friends and family and, indeed, Canadian society in general,” says Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute.
“Half say their friends or family wouldn’t be able to consider [voting for a party led by an observant Sikh] and when you broaden that circle out to society at large, the number of Canadians who say they don’t think society is ready for a national leader who is a turbaned Sikh grows even higher. There is something of a disconnect,” she tells NEWS 1130.
The biggest reservations come in Quebec where just under half (47%) of people polled say they would not consider voting for a political party led by a turban and kirpan-wearing Sikh.
Saskatchewan is the province with the most support at 78 per cent, followed by BC at 77 per cent and Ontario at 76 per cent.
“Racism is, and continues to be, a problem in Canada and that is an unfortunate reality,” says Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, acting executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
“But I also think that most people here understand we have an enormous privilege in that we have a free and democratic country. That means we get to choose the party and representative who we believe will best lead the country on a wide variety of issues — political, social, economic, foreign policy, et cetera — that really matter. I think there’s room to hope that many people in Canada would make those the priority rather particular attributes such as a person’s appearance, gender, facial hair, or garb.”
Mendelsohn Aviv says Canadians place a high value on equality as a fundamental right and she would hope people would not vote based on discriminatory attributes like a person’s race or religion.
However the poll highlights other demographics more hesitant to vote for a party led by an observant Sikh, including the 55-plus age group (39%) and those who voted for the Conservatives in the last 2015 federal election (43%).
“Singh’s triumph will continue to be celebrated – rightly – as a significant achievement for diversity in Canada, but winning a leadership race isn’t the same as winning an election,” reads a statement from Angus Reid.
But, like it or not, it seems Singh’s Sikh identity will continue to play a role in the public’s perception of him and its willingness to consider voting for his party.