Multiculturalism being what it is in Canada, it’s normal for religion to enter into companies. Before looking at how this delicate subject is experienced by employees and dealt with by employers, let’s draw a portrait of religions in the country in general, and in the different provinces in particular.
A great diversity of religions and practices
A study conducted in 2014 by the Centre d’études ethniques des universités montréalaises highlights the different aspects of religion in Canada both in terms of belief and of religious practices. This is how we learn that 83.2% of Canadians believe in God and 76.1% identify with a religion. Among the different religious groups, Christians represent 67% (of which 39% are Catholic), followed by Muslims 3.2%, Hindi 1.5%, Sikhs 1.4%, Buddhists 1.1% and Jews 1%. Behind these figures there are noteworthy disparities depending on the Canadian province: British Columbia has the highest level of “no religion” (44.1% of its population), of Sikhs (4.7%) and of Buddhists (2.1%); Quebec has the highest level of Catholics (close to 75% of its population); Ontario has the highest proportion of Muslims (4.6%), Jews (1.6%) and Hindi (2.9%). On the other hand, although the proportion of “no religion” continues to increase – rising from 4.4% of the Canadian population in 1971 to 13% in 1991 – more than 40% of Canadians say they pray or meditate every day.
Well organized religious practices
Although the preamble of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Liberties evokes God, there is no state religion in Canada. Religious pluralism and religious freedom are important elements in the country’s political culture. Thus, both international law as well as federal and provincial laws stipulate that the religious practices of employees must be respected by employers. As a result, religious neutrality and reasonable accommodation are obligations which businesses cannot override, which could furthermore be required to take measures to avoid possible discrimination. Practically speaking, if you are newly hired in a new company and want to practise your own religious rites, you are within your strictest rights. Remember however that the subject can be a source of tension and stress, so it would be beneficial to first make your request to your employer without being aggressive, taking the time to explain your process so that he sees your sincerity, appreciates your attitude… He might even be kind to you and respond quickly to your request. However, it might not be accepted if it requires making arrangements that involve additional costs. So be flexible by accepting, for example, to pray in a small room that will be temporarily reserved for you. Finally, do not hesitate to offer a consideration to a request for time of for a special holiday, by working on a Christian holiday, for example, or extending your working hours temporarily.
Aware that “it is always at the border of religions where intolerance is met” (Henri-Frédéric Amiel, a philosopher of the 19th century), the various levels of government rely on their laws and the good sense of employees for religious practice to take place smoothly.