After analyzing the data of the 2011 Canadian census, entitled by the Canadian government "the National Household Survey," Montreal's Federation CJA has determined that that unlike previous speculation the city's Jewish population remains above 90,000. Even though population numbers in the community are now stable, the rise again of Quebec nationalism with the Parti-Quebecois being elected in, and then their subsequent Charter of Values, may prompt Jewish Montrealers to exit the province as they had in the past when a separatist government was in power.
These population results follow the release of the Pew Research Center survey entitled "A Portrait of Jewish Americans." The latest population results is a part of a string of new surveys and polls gauging Jewish life in North America.
Federation CJA actually believed the population numbers of Jews in the city was much less than the 91,000; their estimates put the population at 88, 500. However, an examination of the 2011 census proved that there were 83,200 Montrealers indicated they were "Jewish by religion" with an additional 7,800 Montrealers claiming to be "Jewish by ethnic origin."
Speaking of the results Charles Shahar, research coordinator at Federation CJA who looks at Jewish regional demographics, stated; "We're quite pleased. We're closer to 91,000. That seems to be encouraging. It's a positive figure."
Unlike the census in the United States, Canada clearly asks about religion, and ethnic origin. To make some comparisons to the Pew survey, "Jewish by religion" is the same in both polls, while "Jewish by ethnic origin" is akin to the statistics of "Jews of no religion" in the poll survey.
The census numbers released however, are not yet based on a larger study of the Montreal Jewish community, and gave no other indications about the Jewish life in Montreal or Canada, and the last complete study was conducted based on the 2001 census, where the total Jewish population was 92,970.
Montreal with the oldest Jewish community in the country established in 1768 was once the home of the largest Jewish population in Canada seeing their peak in 1971, with 120,000 Jews. These numbers were at the start of the Quebec nationalism movement that swept through Quebec in the late 1960s and 1970s. The Parti-Quebecois first took power and conducted the first referendum for Quebec's separation from Canada in 1976, enacting language laws and regulations constricting for a Jewish population of primarily English speakers.
There was a mass exodus of Montreal's Jews starting in the mid-1970s and again the 1990s when the PQ again was elected in 1995, then holding a second referendum to separate, which failed as did the first. According to data in the Encyclopaedia Judaica's entry on Montreal the total population was 112,020 in 1971; 103,765 in 1981, 101,405 in 1991 then leveling off to 92,970 in 2001. Most of Montreal's Jews left for Toronto, Ontario, which now holds the title for largest Canadian Jewish population.
At that time Montreal's Jewish community was primarily English speaking Ashkenazim from Eastern Europe, and approximately 30,000 to 40,000 left right after 1976. The Montreal Jewish population has been infused by Sephardim, who immigrated from French North Africa, starting after 1956, but mostly arrived after the Six-Day War in 1967. The Sephardim now stand at a population of 21,000.
Also there is a growing community of ultra-Orthodox Jews, mostly growing by a large birthrate and now stand at 15,000 to 16,000, and will continue to grow. Both of these Jewish communities do not interact as much with the Ashkenazi majority.
The Parti-Quebecois again came into power in November 2012 with a minority government, and formally unveiled their Charter of Quebec Values bill meant to "entrench the religious neutrality of the state" on Sept. 10, although they announced in May 2013 their intention to create this new law as an ammendment to Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
The law bans all "overt and conspicuous" religious symbols for all religions, head coverings, and face veils, including; "crucifixes, hijabs, nikabs, burkas, turbans and kippahs." This applies to public service and government employees, those working in government, public hospitals, police, social services, daycares, schools, cegeps and universities, but is exempt for elected officials. The law does permit small jewelry with religious symbols.
The Quebec government argues that for a neutral state to be truly neutral it has to have its employees look the same. The PQ government set up a website for the charter which states "the wearing of overt and conspicuous religious symbols by state personnel... would reflect the state's neutrality."
The Jewish community has publicly opposed the charter with major organizations including the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs - Quebec (CIJA-Québec) B'nai B'rith and Federation CJA denouncing the new law against religious freedom and expression. Many believe if enacted the values charter would spark a new exodus from the province. The Jewish community also participated in large numbers at a Sept. 30 rally protesting the charter.
McGill University sociology professor Morton Weinfeld speaking out against the charter, stated; "This is unprecedented for a North American political jurisdiction today. If you're an observant Jew, Muslim or Sikh, Quebec may not be the place for you."
The future of Montreal's Jewish population depends on whether the Values Charter will pass, and whether the Party-Quebecois will get a majority government in the next election and call a referendum for separating from Canada. Those are elements that might increase the amount of Jews interested and willing to move out of the province.
The main reason the Jewish population leveled off in the past ten years was the fact that it was a time of political stability in Quebec with a Liberal government and no risk for separation or new laws further stifling the English population, there was no reason to move out of the province. No matter what is the charter's outcome, the Jewish presence in Montreal has a long history, and might get somewhat diminished, but it is in no danger of disappearing.
Demographics of the Montreal Jewish Community, Federation CJA, 2001
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes JBuzz & Together with Israel. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are Northern American Jewish news, Israeli news & politics, and Jewish history, religion and cultural news.