I call the meeting to order.
I'll be sitting in this chair today because our erstwhile chair, Hedy Fry, is travelling, so it falls to me to take on the responsibility for this meeting and, I think, our next meeting. I will have to depart just before we finish off today.
We first have witnesses for 10 minutes each.
We have Murray Sinclair, who is a senator. From the Metro Vancouver Aboriginal Executive Council, we have Kevin Barlow, the chief executive officer.
You will each have 10 minutes to speak. I'll try to give you some kind of heads-up warning and then we'll get into question rounds.
This is a difficult time for us to be meeting, of course, after the attacks in Las Vegas, Edmonton, and Marseilles over the weekend, but we shall continue to plunge forward.
We will start with Mr. Sinclair.
I just don't intend to speak for 10 minutes. I didn't come with a prepared set of notes. I came with a few talking points that I want to utilize, particularly in the context of what it is that you're undertaking.
First of all, to introduce myself, you all know me as Honourable Murray Sinclair from Manitoba, a senator from that province along with others, but my real name is Mizana Gheezhik, my traditional name. I am of the fish clan, namegos, which is the rainbow trout. We are the water clan people. Water clan people are the ones who are recognized as having the responsibility to be the dispute solvers, the traditional dispute resolution people. As I always remind people within our lodge, we are also the ones who are considered the philosophers and the dreamers. My name, Mizana Gheezhik, means “the one who speaks of pictures in the sky”, so it's about the responsibility that I've been given as well.
On the face of it, you have a very small-worded motion to consider. There's not a lot of space taken up on the page with the responsibility that you've been given. However, this is a huge undertaking because it affects virtually every person in this country, so I don't want to begin to try to measure that out for you. I'd like to just talk about a few phrases that I was invited to speak about, I think, because of my experience and the work that I've done.
As you know, I was appointed to the Senate in April 2016, and I am the first to acknowledge that I wasn't appointed to the Senate on the basis of my good looks. I am there because I'm an indigenous person. I was a judge for 30 years in the courts of our country, and during the course of my judicial career, I undertook three major studies. One was a study into medical error issues, but two directly impacted the issue of systemic discrimination and racism in our country: the aboriginal justice inquiry of Manitoba, which looked at the impact of the justice system on indigenous people in the province of Manitoba; and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which looked into the history of Indian residential schools, the history of colonization, and the impact of government action on indigenous people in this country and on non-indigenous people, as well. So, I think I have a bit that I can say and perhaps add to the conversation on the issue of systemic racism, but I am not very experienced in terms of dealing with the issue of Islamophobia. In terms of the motion that you have to consider, I'm quite willing to answer any questions about that and any other issue that you wish to talk to me about.
Let me focus my remarks, if I can, on the issue of systemic racism and systemic discrimination, because that's the area in which I have some experience, and I've written about it extensively.
People have a hard time understanding what systemic discrimination is and what systemic racism is. This is because it's not the kind of racism that comes necessarily from the behaviour, words, and actions of individuals, other than the fact that they are guided by the system in which they are functioning. The phrase that I always like to use is that systemic racism is the racism that's left over after you get rid of the racists. Once you get rid of the racists within the justice system, for example, you will still have racism perpetrated by the justice system. This is because the justice system follows certain rules, procedures, guidelines, precedents, and laws that are inherently discriminatory and racist because those laws, policies, procedures, processes, and beliefs—including beliefs that direct individuals on how and when to exercise their discretion—come from a history of the common law, which comes from a different culture, a different way of thinking. That would necessarily have a differential impact upon people who come from a different culture, a culture that is not the culture of the society that created that system to begin with.
For example, the Winnipeg police department used to have a rule that to be a cop in the city of Winnipeg you had to be a minimum of five feet, 10 inches tall. Anybody who was not five feet, 10 inches tall was not allowed to be a cop and they were filtered out right at the beginning. It was not discriminatory because it didn't say that only men could apply. It didn't say that short Filipino men couldn't apply. It didn't say that people who couldn't carry a human body couldn't apply. The intention behind the rule was that they wanted big, tough, scary-looking guys who would be able to handle themselves in the case of confrontation with people on the street. They figured five feet, 10 inches was the starting point. Most police officers in the city of Winnipeg were well over six feet tall.
The utilization of that as a standard for recruitment and acceptance into the police force obviously discriminated against most women. Not all women are under five feet 10 inches, I acknowledge, but most women are. People of different nationalities might not qualify because their nationality might inherently prevent them from reaching that height. I reference Filipino people, for example. They might not be able to qualify just because they come from a background in which the height of their family members and their community is not necessarily that tall.
The utilization of that rule also had no logical connection to the purpose of policing. That's the other reason that having that particular rule made no sense. Eliminating that allowed them to increase the number of women on the force and increase the number of people from different ethnic, cultural, and racial backgrounds. That assisted the police to police better. That's the whole question. If you have a discriminatory rule or if you have a rule that is having a differential impact on certain populations within society, and that impact is a negative impact, you have to question whether you need the rule. It doesn't mean you get rid of it automatically. If the rule is not causally connected to a benefit that you need and can only get in that way, then you need to get rid of the rule. You need to recognize that the negative impact is not benefiting you.
There are many such rules within the justice system. The justice system follows many such practices. Sentencing, for example, and bail reviews take into account certain factors that are negatively reviewed when it comes to indigenous people. For example, if you're sentencing somebody, the fact that they have consistent employment with the same person over a period of time is a factor you take into account. Do they have a regular residence in the community or do they have a homeless experience? Are they people who have mental health issues? These are all factors you take into account. When those factors are more prominent in a certain community of people, such as indigenous communities, then they will have a differential impact.
As I said, systemic discrimination and systemic racism is that racism left over after you get rid of the racists. That's when you need to look at what you're doing.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and honourable members.
My agency represents an urban population in metro Vancouver, which is estimated to be about 70,000 indigenous people. We believe and most people believe that indigenous people have experienced systemic and government-sanctioned racism for hundreds of years. The residential school system wasn't really about educating. It was about Christianity conversion and taking the Indian out of the Indian.
When we're speaking to these historical influences, many people wrongly think we're talking about first contact when, in fact, we're talking about more current realities. I'm coming up to 56 years old in December, and it has been within my lifetime that I've experienced certain things. For example, the right for first nations to vote came in only about two years before I was born. The Davis Inlet Innu, for example, were relocated during my lifetime. These forced relocations are examples of how government-sanctioned racism occurred. So we're not really talking about hundreds and hundreds of years ago. We're talking about now, even though things started back then.
Recently we've been hearing a lot about historical name changes. For example, in Halifax they want to take down the Cornwallis statue, and there has been talk about changing some schools that have Sir John A. Macdonald's name on them. For those who don't know, Cornwallis was not a good person. He issued bounties on the heads of Mi'kmaq people. When we talk about trying to change these names, we need to ask what purpose doing that serves.
In my opinion, two things need to happen when we're looking at that. The first is a locally driven response. An example is that in Vancouver, there's an aboriginal focus school ironically named after Sir John A. Macdonald. The local community wants to change that to an indigenous name, and there's no major opposition to that. If a local community wants to make that change, and there's no major discord, then I think that's one thing we need to look at.
The second, though, I think is an opportunity for us to educate about those impacts. For example, rather than taking down Cornwallis' statue, why don't we have a plaque there that educates about that era and the impacts and the views that were held, and that says we don't agree with those things anymore? I think that would serve a better purpose than just trying to erase history.
I think a lot of Canadians think that we somehow were defeated in war as indigenous people, yet if you know your history, you know that Canada was formed largely because of treaties. You guys wanted to put a railway across the country to stop the Americans from moving up, and so you formed treaties. I think sometimes people think we were beat or defeated in war, and we should just take our lumps of coal, but I don't think that's the answer. We need to teach history in a proper context.
I think there's extreme polarization going on right now, and it's something I haven't seen in a long time. When I grew up in New Brunswick, there were segregated schools. It seemed like the English and the French couldn't get along, so at the school I went to there was an invisible line. French were on one side and the English were on the other. Because my community spoke English, we got lumped in with the English. Honestly, there were days when it seemed as though we were like rabbits being chased around by hound dogs, because people were bullying us. My reserve currently has only about 200 registered band members, but when I was growing up it was quite a bit smaller. Going to school there might have been four or five of us, and so we would be chased around.
I think that kind of polarization, with everybody in their own corners and not really wanting to get along, I'm seeing again today. I don't think it's so much about the Trump effect. I think it's more that there are enough people who think that way to elect someone like that. Those reality shows that have been out there have had that impact of slowly eroding away a certain morale or public standard. Social media, which I like to call anti-social media, also puts people in corners. There's a tendency that if you are friends with certain people who share your values, then you tend to see only those kinds of opinions, and so people are becoming more segregated in that way.
Fake news pops up every now and then, including on social media. One of them is about how new immigrants coming to Canada are paid these Treasury Board rates that are common for public servants or people who are travelling on government business, thinking they're making way more than people who grew up here and are on old age security or disability, that type of thing. When that polarization occurs, then I think those kinds of things have more opportunity to take hold. I think the Canadian government, regardless of who is governing, needs to play that leadership role and really make explicit efforts to educate people and bridge those divides.
An example in the United States is the trans people who were told not to use certain washrooms. Here in Canada I see signs going up saying “All genders welcome”. That's the Canadian way, where we are more embracing of differences. Even though racism does exist, we are generally not the same as our neighbours down south. We see these neo-Nazi or fascist rallies going on, and yes, people have a right to assemble and to voice their opinions. We do have laws that protect people against hatred, and we're seeing the counter. In Vancouver there was a rally, and there were literally thousands of people who spoke up to say they didn't accept this kind of hatred. We had a few hundred people who showed up to express their views, and we had thousands of people who opposed that.
I think Vancouver is a shining example of leadership at the civic level, where they have endorsed the principle and name themselves the city of reconciliation. They have gone out of their way to show that indigenous people within that area have a place. This racism discussion also needs to include a discussion about perceived racism. Indigenous people are overrepresented in almost every negative health and social indicator in this country, whether it's homelessness or substance use or children-in-care rates, incarceration, you name it. What comes with that sometimes is stigma and discrimination, where people think we are the architects of our own problems, that if only we'd get a job and pay taxes, then we'd be okay.
There are two papers in my references that talk about racism within the health care system. One was done by the Wellesley Institute and another by The College of Family Physicians of Canada. Perhaps you don't think racism exists. When those reports came out, if you look at the comments section on those posts, you see the racism was blatant. Sadly, this stuff does exist. We hear stories and stories, whether it's Frank Paul, who died from hypothermia in 1998, in Vancouver; Adam Capay, the young first nations' person who's been in solitary confinement for four years; Curtis Brick, who was taunted by first responders in Vancouver before he died of extreme heat; Barbara Kentner, the young woman in the Thunder Bay area who died after being hit by a trailer hitch.
When Barbara Kentner was hit by a trailer hitch, for us as indigenous people, we see that as racism. Somebody did that because she was an indigenous woman, but we know in law it's harder to prove that, so the man was charged with something else. The woman has since died.
Perceived racism has eroded our confidence in the system over hundreds of years. An example that these things still live with us is that in the Atlantic, people still commonly refer to social assistance cheques as rations, which is what Innu nations used to give out. They talked of it as their ration cheque. These things stay with us as part of our psyche.
In closing, I'd like to say, we believe more needs to be done around reconciliation, about ensuring that cultural competency is delivered in various areas. We also speak against Islamophobia, because if we were to say that one group is okay to discriminate against, then it takes away what we've been standing for so many years. Our teachings talk about the four colours of mankind in the medicine wheel: the red race, yellow race, the white race, the black race. Christians have the Ten Commandments. We operate under one principle, respect, respect for all life.
I think that what the Canadian government needs to do in terms of showing its leadership is to bridge those divides and work with the community to make sure that we welcome people coming in and educate people on the current realities.
Yes. Systemic racism occurs at a number of different points. First of all, there's the point at which the decisions are made to apprehend children. The factors that are utilized and followed in order to make a decision as to whether to take a child into care exclude those factors, do not include those factors that are unique to indigenous families. For example, Manitoba, at this point in time, apprehends on average one newborn infant per day out of hospital. A young mother goes to a hospital, gives birth to a child, and the child is apprehended at the rate of about 370 newborn children per year, never mind the other children who are apprehended at later ages.
When you look at the factors that lead to that, it's because most mothers from northern communities have to go to two or three urban centres—Thompson, Brandon, or Winnipeg—in order to have children. They leave their home communities. If they have any kind of social or physical problem, they don't have the support system in place in that community to help them, so they have to involve a child welfare agency, and the first decision a child welfare agency makes is to apprehend the child. They'll take the child into care, and then they will offer support to the mother to get treatment or to get help. In the meantime, the child is in care. By the time the mother goes through treatment or gets the help that she needs, they'll often deny returning the child, or they will refuse to return the child to the mother, because they say that the child has now bonded with the family that they've placed the child with, and therefore, they're not going to interfere with the bond that the child has formed. Or they may say to the mother that she hasn't completed the program well enough, so she has to go to another program.
Systemic discrimination occurs because the factors and the standards to which indigenous people are held are almost impossible for them to meet because they do not have the same social benefits, social privileges, social options, and opportunities that non-indigenous families have. They have more negative factors that weigh upon their being caught up in the system to begin with.
As a result, the rules the system follows work against indigenous mothers.
The way we have been educated in this country—and it's true also in the United States—is to believe that if we are Euro-Canadian people, then people who are not of our background are inferior to us, because that's the belief system that came over with colonialism and those who brought the European systems of believing things. It was behind the use of common law. It was behind the use of various other legal mechanisms to establish and justify crown sovereignty in this jurisdiction. They said they were a superior people entitled to do this.
When we encounter people who are not of that background, we assume they need to be shown, that we need to treat them in a way that will bring them into that mould. When I was a young lawyer practising law, I had many judges who would say to my indigenous client, “You need to learn that this law is meant for you; therefore, I'm going to sentence you to this”, whereas a non-indigenous person who had committed the same offence might not get the same sentence. They would attempt to use the law to teach a lesson.
That kind of belief, that European colonizers who came to this country were superior to the indigenous people who were here, is an inherent part of the colonial experience. It has taught indigenous people that they are inferior; it has taught non-indigenous people that they are superior, and it has contributed mostly to the very negative relationship that exists between indigenous and non-indigenous people.
Judges, who are predominantly of European ancestry, believe that when they exercise discretion, they have to do it in such a way that it will reinforce what the system is all about.
I definitely agree that something needs to be done formally with the urban indigenous population. In some regions we're representing 70% or 80% of the overall population within those provinces.
I think the federal government wrongly tends to rely on working with the on-reserve population, because the reserve is an infrastructure that's there, and they think it's the easiest to do. Yet so many people are moving off reserve out of necessity.
One thing I talk about at our agency is the psychology of poverty. It's not so much that our people are poor; there's a psychology that goes with it that comes from multi-generations of poverty. We have to find ways to break that and reverse it.
Often, service delivery works within certain rules and doesn't take into consideration that indigenous persons who present themselves and who come from an impoverished background, just as Senator Sinclair pointed out, often don't have the resources to respond to a certain situation. Therefore, the system kicks in and takes a child or incarcerates somebody, or whatever, just because there's not a support system there. We're working our hardest to try to reverse that psychology of poverty and put in place systems, but we need something formally at an urban level.
The federal government has just instituted the urban programming for indigenous people. I think there are a lot of flaws in that program, quite honestly.
Thank you very much for receiving us. My name is Samer Majzoub. I am president of the Canadian Muslim Forum. Mr. Mohammed-Nur Alsaieq is a board member. It's a pleasure to be with you today.
First, I would like to announce our condemnation for the terror attack yesterday that happened in Edmonton and today in Vegas. This is only to prove that terror has no religion and no race.
We will go back to our subject and start with the Canadian Muslim Forum. The Canadian Muslim Forum is an organization that was established in 1994. We mainly focus on advocacy and civic engagement. We try to get the community together on common interest issues that face our community in Quebec and in Canada. Today our subject is about Islamophobia. The Canadian Muslim Forum and I have taken this subject very seriously since day one. As you all know, we have initiated petition e-411 to fight Islamophobia, with Mr. Frank Baylis.
We all know that Islamophobia has been an issue, and I think we are at the point that Islamophobia or discrimination against Muslims is not disputable anymore. It is there in the statistics. It is there on a daily basis. We had it in Quebec City against the mosque, and generally in 2017. It is an issue to recognize because it is proven to be there.
On October 1, 2015, the National Assembly of Quebec unanimously denounced Islamophobia. In the House of Commons on October 26, 2016, Islamophobia was also denounced unanimously and, on March 2017, motion M-103 was adopted about Islamophobia at the same time.
What is positive about this commission in particular is the fact that Muslims are suffering discrimination, hatred, and violence, but it is not contested anymore, as mentioned. What is contested, especially in the media, and lately by some politicians, since March, is whether the word “Islamophobia” is to be used. As an issue, the subject itself has been agreed upon.
Islamophobia was originally developed as a concept in the late 1990s by political activists, to draw attention to discrimination against citizens of the Muslim faith. This has not been limited to Canada and Quebec, but it is worldwide. We have seen it in many places, and even in the United States. In the United Nations, in Geneva, they have created a special committee to fight Islamophobia worldwide.
The word itself is not something new. It is not something we have created. It has existed for a long time. The issue that comes into concern is what Islamophobia means. This is one of the things that was taken on, and the media and some political parties also took this on. There are many definitions for this particular terminology. I have many of them, but I will mention just one or two to shed more light on it.
It is “a widespread mindset and fear-laden discourse in which people make blanket judgments of Islam as the enemy as the 'other' as a dangerous and unchanged, monolithic bloc that is the natural subject of well-deserved hostility from Westerners”. This is a definition by Zuquete. Another definition that is very popular is that Islamophobia is “a rejection of Islam, Muslim groups, and Muslim individuals on the basis of prejudice and stereotypes. It may have emotional, cognitive, evaluative as well as action-oriented elements like discrimination and violence”.
Islamophobia has many terminologies and explanations that have been given to this particular word by many scholars.
As for us, we have opted for the following definition. It is a criticizing or scathing negative opinion that might directly or indirectly cause humiliation or damage to the reputation and or incite to hatred and to violence against a person or a group of persons for the only reason that they are of Muslim faith.
Regardless of any definition, the House of Commons has the right to provide their own definition.
We come to the wording itself, Islamophobia, when it is targeting Muslims and individuals and properties like mosques and community centres. If we would like to give clear comparisons here, we have the anti-Semitism and we have racial profiling. Anti-Semitism is well known to be whenever there is hate targeted against the citizens of Jewish background. It is called anti-Semitism and there is no dispute that this exists.
The question that comes up is that we know that Arabs are Semite, but still when an Arab is being attacked, we never say that this is anti-Semitism. Why? The definition now is that they are related by impression and by political concept to the Jewish community and there is no objection to this.
It is the same thing when it comes to racial profiling. Whenever we speak about racial profiling, what comes to our mind is that, when citizens of African descent, or black Canadians, for example, are being targeted, right away we say it's racial profiling. There might be other races that have been targeted, but it is rarely we use the words “racial profiling”.
The third example is bashing. When we speak about bashing of races, most of the time, whites are the target or the bashing of many races could be any other race.
There are terminologies that are used, so that at one time, the definition is associated with this group or the other.
I will conclude by saying that one of the concerns that was raised is that when we use the word “Islamophobia” we are limiting freedom of expression. This is not the objective and we do not accept this. We do not want any excuse to limit the freedom of expression. We support it. It is something very important for our democratic societies.
We are not suggesting in any way or for any reason to limit the freedom of expression.
I will stop here and leave it to my colleagues. When it comes to the questions, I am ready to clarify any point.
Thank you so much.
I'm here with my colleague, Yavar Hameed, and we represent the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association. The CMLA is an organization made up of self-identified Muslim Canadian lawyers coming from a diversity of backgrounds and a variety of professional expertise.
Although we are lawyers, the approach that we advocate underscores the urgency here for Parliament to research, study, and understand Islamophobia. It is not to create a legal term of art or a set of prohibited practices that need to be specifically identified and legislated. Rather, it is to recognize the social problem that needs to be understood and documented in order to better inform on government policy and legal decision-making. That's our general position.
Why does Parliament need to study Islamophobia? The police already investigate crimes of hate-motivated assault, vandalism, anti-Muslim terror, and hate speech. We have civil courts that redress wrongs of battery, libel, and slander. There are ombuds, labour boards, police complaints procedures, and a variety of other administrative avenues to complain about discriminatory treatment. Many of these processes operate as quasi-judicial bodies, which means they have the power to apply human rights norms and the charter. They have a mandate to consider evidence of systemic discrimination in order to better understand the specific facts that are before them. Systemic discrimination doesn't produce on its own findings of individual liability. It allows us to better understand specific facts in context.
The challenge, though, is that those various bodies are not human rights experts. They don't have social context at their fingertips. They are equipped to ascertain facts before them, but they need evidence about the underlying social conditions that is usually admitted only through expert evidence. The problem is that the law can't protect against Islamophobia. Rather, it is policy-makers, administrators, police, judicial and administrative decision-makers that need to be sensitive to the depth of the problem and its social manifestations, so that they can better consider that as the context in which individual disputes arise.
The best experts on Islamophobia are social scientists, and that's because they observe society. They write about what they see. Social scientists have observed that the war on terror and the divisive public discourse that has focused heavily on Islam as the problem have had trickle-down effects. Our society is obsessed with the way a handful of women dress, with how and where people pray, and whom they associate with. We've heard calls to screen immigrants for values, testing for loyalty.
All experts tell us at the same time that white extremism is a real threat. We see attacks by white people against Muslim women, perceived foreigners, racial minorities on buses and in malls around the country, the murder of six worshippers in Quebec City in a mosque, daily physical and verbal assaults on innocent ordinary Canadians for no reason other than how they look or what they are perceived or assumed to be. All the while Muslims are still painted as the terrorists and continue to be subjected to hate because of that.
What we know about is just the tip of the iceberg. We know, as Muslim Canadian lawyers who hear from members of our community, that under-reporting is a big obstacle. There's a chill on reporting. But we do know enough to know there's a problem, and we know enough to know what we don't know. That's why we support this government taking a closer look at the problem, to better understand it.
Islamophobia is not a legally defined concept. It's a term developed by social scientists to describe the social problem. Defining it is not impossible, but expecting a perfect definition is unrealistic, so don't do it. Too much time has been wasted arguing about finding the perfect definition, and not enough is being done to understand the problem that everybody of reasonable mind accepts and should acknowledge exists. Having said that, we do offer a simple working definition that is not any different from the definitions you have heard, but as lawyers we boil it down to a very simple analogy. Islamophobia is simply anti-Muslim discrimination or hate.
We all know that anti-Semitism means something like anti-Jewish discrimination or hate. We also know that homophobia means something like anti-gay or anti-LGBTQ discrimination or hate. It's not that hard to extend that thinking, using logic, to Islamophobia.
There are two important dimensions: the individual and the systemic. Systemic Islamophobia involves a pattern, practice, or policy that is rooted in discriminatory criteria or assumptions and which has a broad impact on members of that group. Islamophobia gives a name to the system of structural obstacles that coalesced and deepened after 9/11 to produce exclusions, burdens, and barriers on people in various aspects of public and personal life just because they fit a particular profile. Once these exclusions, burdens, and barriers become embedded in our institutions, they can be difficult to identify and remove. This is why it's important to study systemic discrimination.
At the individual level, Islamophobia can be considered a subset within the category of discrimination. We hear from members of the Canadian Muslim community all the time and sometimes ourselves even experience the casual forms of ordinary daily discrimination that people face in various social areas or as a result of state surveillance and over-scrutiny. It consists of contempt, prejudice, aversion, and distrust. It may be rooted in irrational fear, beliefs or even in claims of expertise. It may even be couched in neutral language, and it's often connected to particular movements such as the backlash against multiculturalism, the backlash against political correctness, or the backlash against reasonable accommodation.
It can be observable in critical and hostile behaviour on the basis of religion or on the basis of perceived religion, and it can manifest in the denial of benefits or of opportunities based on unstated assumptions. It's difficult to unearth and to identify. It can lead to outcomes that people cannot see and therefore cannot address, and for this reason it is even more important to study the systemic patterns that cause those things to be embedded in our society.
I have just a couple of comments to add to those of my colleague. I want to address how the Canadian state is blinded to the dangers of Islamophobia and what we propose to do about it.
In terms of this blinding, Islamophobia not only clouds judgment, but it can also make the state so blind that it fails to see actual danger. Should we be surprised then that while white supremacist Alexandre Bissonnette was dreaming up his murderous plot to attack a Quebec city mosque, the RCMP were basically manufacturing crime in the case of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, Muslim converts who were recovering heroine addicts living on social assistance, whose terrorism charges were stayed last year after a court found they had been entrapped by the police?
This country's top courts have recognized for more than 20 years that unconscious bias operates in law enforcement as it does in all social relations. These biases are shaped by history and social context, unstated assumption, and pre-existing prejudices.
In terms of legal tools, as my colleague has mentioned, there already exist numerous legal provisions that address the various possible sites of manifest Islamophobia, as well as human rights legislation that protects against discrimination in housing, contracts, employment, etc., and in this sense, the injection of Islamophobia is consistent with the tenor of human rights jurisprudence; however, there is a glaring gap in the empirical research to understand why there is what my colleague referred to as an under-reporting of incidents of hate and discrimination against Muslims in Canada. Civil society organizations, such as those many of you have heard from, receive confidential complaints and information regarding hate crimes, but only a fraction of these are pursued through official investigation or adjudication. I, as a barrister and solicitor, routinely receive such complaints.
The Arar report, after the case of Maher Arar, provides only the narrowest and most general comments about religious profiling by the state, despite its focus on the unlawfulness of the actions of the RCMP. Chief Commissioner Dennis O'Connor noted that given the tendency to focus national security scrutiny on Muslims and Arabs, members of these communities are more likely to be affected by human rights violations. The report stands as a watershed in changing national security practices, but Islamophobia, in that context, was really like the elephant in the room in that inquiry and its aftermath.
Similarly, despite the scathing comments of the Supreme Court in the case of Omar Khadr and a $10.5 million settlement to Mr. Khadr, there needs to be an indication of how the government will learn from its mistakes in terms of a prospective strategy of addressing Islamophobia within foreign affairs practices and information sharing, and its involvement in the global war on terrorism.
Mr. Chair, I'm going to share my time with Mr. Frank Baylis.
I'm going to ask a few questions right at the outset, because it's meant to be about three and a half minutes in total.
It's very important that all of you are here. Thank you in particular for petition e-411, for raising such an important cause on a national basis.
Mr. Majzoub, I want to ask if you could comment on the rise of particular anti-Muslim sentiment in Quebec, the rise of groups like La Meute and how that's different, and whether we need to approach things somewhat differently in your province in particular.
I want to ask the lawyers on the panel about how we encourage reporting, but also how we facilitate prosecutions. We've had some witnesses thus far who have talked about the need for the AG's consent on incitement to hatred. Others will be coming and talking about that. Could you comment on that and what you think are impediments or not to prosecutions?
Last, I want any of you to speak about the role of media in fomenting division. You've all talked about the fact that there's a climate right now where people feel emboldened. We know there have been rallies that have been held.
I will confess that I find it quite troubling with certain types of fringe media, such as the Rebel Media group, which is often a platform for division. We know that entity and their subjective coverage of Charlottesville has prompted even the leader of the opposition to withdraw from the Rebel Media. We know that just last week we had witnesses in this very committee, Ms. Raza and Mr. Cameron, who appear and continue to appear on Rebel Media.
Could you comment on platforms like that and what they are doing to encourage the division we're so desperately trying to combat?
I believe Rebel is a very important concern that we are facing in Quebec and in Canada in general. After the terrorist attack in Quebec, in January 2017, Islamophobia was more manifested in the province of Quebec, or that's what we felt at least. It was more reported than any other province. After the terrorist attack, and unfortunately after the adoption of motion M-103 by the House of Commons, we have seen that this has been extended. The Islamophobic sentiment has also been really clear in English Canada.
To go back to your question, we were amongst the first to raise the concern and the worry about the far right groups, La Meute, or some other groups. What is the danger of such a group? First of all, they are openly anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-whoever new comes to this country. Second, they tend to present themselves with their military background, that they are doing some patrols in Quebec City streets. They are just there to stop the Islamization of Quebec City. They are creating this Islamophobic sentiment that has now started to affect the security and safety of Quebec citizens. I don't know if you're following Quebec news. There is mainstream media in Quebec opening their doors and their air for such groups to express themselves.
One of the other things that is really strange, especially about security departments—and we have raised this issue—is that if you go to social media, you see that those groups are expressing their hatred, their violent expressions openly, and no one has really approached them. They even threatened the of Canada to be shot and killed. They attack Muslims—do this, do that. There is very rarely any approach by the security department against those groups.
I will conclude that those groups are increasing their visibility. It does not mean they're increasing by number. What is worrying is that socially they are more and more accepted, especially in the province of Quebec.
We have for many years now, 10 or 15 years so far.... Recently we created a 1-800 number for all Canadians, not limited to our Muslim community, but really for those people who have to face issues that are discriminatory and who are being attacked for who they are. What we have realized through our experience on this is—although it is not a federal issue, it is more of a local issue—that there are two elements to this.
First of all, there are people who come from countries where they are hesitant to come and present themselves, especially to security departments.
Second, and this is most important, from our experience so far, security departments all over do not really take seriously the complaints they have received. I'll give you an example. If a woman is being targeted because of her hijab, and she goes to the police to make this complaint, they start asking questions: “Do you have a witness? Who was there? Are you fine? What kind of violence was there? Did you go to the hospital?” When the woman doesn't have all the answers, there's a sort of discouragement. Since there were no other witnesses who were ready to present themselves at this certain incident, there is no need for you to really.... CMF, Canadian Muslim Forum, has approached authorities and city authorities to tackle this issue.
They face another problem. Even if the police take it into consideration, there is no serious follow-up. This is also another discouragement where we call on authorities, whether at the city level or the provincial level, to have this sort of orientation for all police departments to take such instances very seriously and to be followed up seriously when they are reported.
I'll just say something on this racism versus religious discrimination piece, because I think that we can't generalize for all religions.
For Muslims, and when talking about Islamophobia, it really is the intersection of religious discrimination and racism, whereas that might not be the issue for other cases of religious discrimination, for example. I know many Christian groups are concerned about incursions on the various churches' freedoms. That's, I think, a different issue from the specific nature of Islamophobia, which is more akin to homophobia and anti-Semitism because it's an intersectional form of discrimination. For Muslims, it's on the basis of religion, but it's also on the basis of a perceived otherness, a foreignness and a colour, but not always colour because we're a diverse community of many races, and that causes many people to say, “What do you mean?”
Let me give you an example. My own mother, for example, is white in colour. She's an old-stock Quebecker who became a Muslim 40 years ago and has been wearing the hijab for about 25 years. Over the last 10 years, she has, at various points in time, been told to go back to where she comes from, which is a small village in rural Quebec where she probably wouldn't be welcome looking the way she looks. That, I think, illustrates what race is and how it's not about colour and hair texture.