Madam Chairwoman, honourable members of Parliament, committee staff, guests of the committee, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the privilege of allowing me to address you today.
My name is Sherif Emil. I am not a public figure, a political operative, or a political advocate. I am not here to represent any organization or movement. I am here as a genuinely concerned citizen, one of Canada's newest, having obtained the privilege of citizenship on Canada's 150th birthday, last July 1. On that rainy day in Montreal, I took an oath to faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen. I see my presence here today as a way to express gratitude for my new citizenship and fulfill my duties as a new citizen.
I am a pediatric surgeon at the Montreal Children's Hospital. I attend to one of the most vulnerable patient populations, babies and children with surgical illnesses. My patients and their parents come from every corner of the world and represent every culture and faith. My trainees are similarly diverse. Approximately one-third hail from Arab states of the Persian Gulf—deeply conservative Muslim societies. A large part of my success as a physician and educator stems from my deep respect for diversity and my genuine tolerance for views significantly different from my own.
I am here today to offer my views on M-103 and any potential bills that may eventually emanate from this motion. M-103 calls on government to, among other things, develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia”. The last word in this sentence, “Islamophobia”, has rendered this motion controversial. Unfortunately, an alternative introduced by the opposition, urging Parliament to “condemn all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance, and discrimination of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, and other religious communities” was rejected by the majority, even though Muslims came first on this list.
Allow me to examine the notion of Islamophobia. I will start with a direct quote: “What we saw in the last couple of days in Germany and Netherlands are the reflections of Islamophobia.” These were the words of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday, March 12. They were uttered in a series of speeches in which Mr. Erdogan also called the German and Dutch governments Nazis and fascists. Apparently, these governments were Islamophobic because they refused to allow Turkish officials to hold campaign rallies among Turkish immigrants. The rallies were meant to support an April referendum in Turkey aimed at transitioning the country from its recent past as the only Muslim secular democracy—albeit one that continued to deny the Armenian genocide—to its future as another Islamic autocratic state. We all know what has happened in Turkey since the referendum passed.
I ask you: do you agree with Mr. Erdogan's definition of Islamophobia? Do you agree with what Al-Azhar, Islam's most respected seat of learning, has done when they accused Islam Behery, a liberal Egyptian thinker, author, and journalist, of propagating Islamophobia and insulting Islam? Mr. Behery, a practising Muslim, used a weekly television show to examine the roots of Islamic fundamentalism that have given rise to the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al Qaeda, al Shabaab, Boko Haram, and others. These movements draw their constitutions from accepted and endorsed sources of Islamic doctrine and jurisprudence. His message was simple: why blame Islamic State for crucifixions, beheadings, enslavement of women, and destruction of idolatrous historical landmarks when all of these practices are enshrined in Islamic texts?
In fact, many of the practices of Islamic State—public beheadings, murder of homosexuals, stoning for adultery—are also the practices of the Government of Saudi Arabia. The only difference is that the Saudi government codifies them into law and brands anyone who dares to criticize them, as the Swedish foreign minister recently did, as exercising Islamophobia. Mr. Behery's “Islamophobic” program earned him a year in prison.
He is not the only one. Fatima Naood, a respected Muslim thinker and feminist, was sentenced to prison for daring to question one of the practices of the Islamic feast of al-Adha. Ibrahim Eissa, an Egyptian Muslim journalist who highlighted the rampant and chronic persecution and discrimination against Egypt's Christian minority, had his TV show closed and was questioned by a federal prosecutor. Again, Al-Azhar, front and centre in the war against so-called Islamophobia, charged them both with the same thing.
The notion of Islamophobia is behind the apostasy and blasphemy laws that pervade Muslim countries, laws that are used regularly to imprison and subjugate minorities and some Muslims. Last year, four Egyptian Christian high school students, youth, were sent to prison for insulting Islam and propagating Islamophobia. Their crime was a video they made mocking Islamic State.
How do you plan to define Islamophobia? What do you plan to do with those accused of propagating it? Will some of my testimony today one day become illegal in Canada? As I understand, Islamophobia has been defined quite loosely—any speech, opinion, or action that promotes irrational hatred towards Muslims.
When she tabled her motion, the honourable Iqra Khalid cited her experience as a young Canadian woman:
||When I moved to Canada in the 1990s, a young girl trying to make this nation my home, some kids in school would yell as they pushed me, “Go home, you Muslim”, but I was home. I am among thousands of Muslims who have been victimized because of hate and fear.
I sympathize with Ms. Khalid. Living in Saudi Arabia as a young Christian, I was called an infidel daily by other children and adults, and made to feel inherently inferior. I was not allowed to worship or declare my faith, let alone exercise it. My family that remains in Egypt, our native country, is constantly reminded that they are second-class citizens. More than 100 Egyptian Christians, including many children, have been killed during the past year in incident after incident. Their crime is being Christian. In last December's bombing of the Coptic Orthodox cathedral, my wife lost two second cousins, beautiful young women, the only children of their parents. Christianity, ladies and gentlemen, not Islam, is the most persecuted faith in the world today.
I understand the pain of ignorance, hatred, prejudice, discrimination, and intolerance, but I don't call it “Christianophobia”, because it's not. It's ignorance, hatred, prejudice, discrimination, and intolerance. In fact, I experience denigration of my Christian faith on a regular basis by Quebeckers who use the holiest of Christian religious terms as swear words. A few years ago my hospital put up a “multicultural” poster stating that Easter is a pagan feast.
Ignorance and insensitivity are not phobias. “Phobia” is a medical term, implying a pathological and irrational fear. As far as I know, the only religion it has been applied to is Islam. The proper definition of Islamophobia, therefore, is not “irrational hatred of Muslims” but “irrational fear of Islam”.
Hatred is always wrong. Incitement to discrimination or violence against any group, including Muslim Canadians, is illegal and always should be. Muslim Canadians bring a welcome diversity to our society. I work with dozens of them every day. Their contributions make our society better, but concern about Islam as it is practised in much of the world today is not irrational.
On the same day that Ms. Khalid tabled her motion, an e-petition was tabled that called on the House of Commons to join the signatories “in recognizing that extremist individuals do not represent the religion of Islam, and in condemning all forms of Islamophobia.”
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
On behalf of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, l would like to thank the committee for this opportunity to address a very serious concern—that of prejudice, violence, and discrimination against people because of their religion.
CMDS Canada is a fellowship of over 1,600 doctors and dentists whose goal is to integrate Christian faith with professional practice. Christian faith is an intrinsic part of who we are as human beings. We cannot just turn on or off our faith in God. Faith is so much a part of who we are that it must, by its very nature, spill over into all aspects of our lives.
Because of this commitment, we are very empathetic to the concerns of all religious groups when we hear about prejudice, discrimination, or lack of tolerance in Canadian society. We believe that Canada is a pluralistic society within which every Canadian is able to live out their faith, their beliefs, or their creed and to participate in as many aspects of civil society as their values permit. It is intolerable that certain groups, because of their religious beliefs, should be excluded from any opportunity available to the average Canadian or be subjected to hate crimes, violence, prejudice, or discrimination.
l worked for several years with the Government of Nova Scotia, developing training materials for government employees in relation to the respectful workplace policy. We developed policies that extended the rights guaranteed under the Human Rights Act for groups with protected characteristics related to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, and so on. We also extended that to include personal harassment or bullying. I was proud that we were working towards a workplace where no one would be bullied or harassed for any reason. I think there is a general Canadian consensus that this is an admirable goal.
Given this effort, imagine the following scenario. Imagine there was a group within Canadian society that had one of the protected characteristics found under either the provincial Human Rights Act or the charter. Imagine that members of this group were unable to practise their profession in certain provinces or be educated in certain professional schools because they had a particular protected characteristic. In discussions in class, there was no acknowledgement of the legitimacy or viability of their world view. They were told not to seek positions in rural areas because of their protected characteristic. They were advised that they could only work in certain small sections of their profession because of their protected characteristic. In policies put forward by their regulatory bodies, people who shared their moral convictions on a topic were deemed unprofessional, selfish, and not worthy of the noble position that their profession provided. Regulatory leaders openly spoke of decades-old anecdotes that were the product of theoretical discussions that never took place. When regulatory leaders began to use their power to act upon their prejudice, the inevitable result was discrimination.
This scenario is not fictional. It is real. It affects doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals in Canada who cannot, because of their religious beliefs, be involved in the intentional killing of patients at any stage of life. Their conscience and religious convictions tell them that killing patients is morally wrong, and they cannot participate in it. We cannot participate in procedures that go against our moral responsibility to God and our fellow human beings, yet some provincial regulatory authorities, like those in Ontario, require physicians to arrange for patients to be seen by doctors who will end their lives or in some cases to actually end the life of the patient themselves through providing a lethal prescription.
As a result, students report being told in class that if they have these beliefs, they should avoid certain geographic practice areas. Physicians have been told by regulators to retrain for a small subset of specialties, such as plastic surgery, pathology, or sports medicine. Applicants for medical schools—as part of the admissions process—are faced with questions that put them at a clear disadvantage because of these ethical issues. Prominent medical school ethicists have gone on record as recommending that students who have conscientious objections should be screened out before they ever get accepted into medical school.
Imagine that this scenario was occurring to systemically exclude any group of people who had one of the protected characteristics. Imagine that people were being penalized because of their colour or sexual orientation, or gender, or racial group. The powerful forces in our society—government, media, universities—would not tolerate this. Why is it tolerated when this discrimination is against people of faith? Why is this serious attack on our constitutional values accepted?
I would suggest the reason is that Canada is at an important crossroads. We need to decide what it means to have a secular state. Everyone feels that state neutrality is a good thing, that the state must never be in a position where it favours one religion or creed at the expense of another one. This allows a pluralistic society to flourish.
However, something more insidious is happening here. People are being discriminated against. They are being forced to do things that go against their religious convictions, convictions that will not allow them to participate in certain procedures that involve bringing about the death of their patients. The requirement to do this, even against conscience, is enforcing and promoting secularism or atheism, which is in itself an identifiable creed. State neutrality is breached, therefore, when a secular state decides to impose secularism on people who have established religious beliefs that should be protected under human rights legislation and the charter.
These concerns involve a broader spectrum than just Christians. Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus who are physicians, nurses, or other health care professionals are also threatened, as are many who are secular humanists and atheists who do not feel that killing patients is in the patient's best interests. An argument based on multiculturalism actually supports greater care or support of conscience and religious rights, as many of the new immigrants coming to Canada bring with them religious beliefs that can enrich our cultural mosaic.
At the Senate justice committee hearings on the bill that would legalize euthanasia in Canada, three major religious groups stood shoulder to shoulder in advocating for conscience rights for health care professionals. This unity of purpose was evident because many religious groups in Canada sense they are in a battle for human rights against a radical secularism that would remove all reference to God, and even the transcendent, from every aspect of public Canadian life.
Secularists who espouse this view do not recognize that they are imposing their values on others. Because they have such a fervent belief that they are right, they feel justified in using the tools of the state to force others to either be coerced into joining them or potentially lose their livelihood. This is the essence of bullying.
Such a stripping of the fundamental core of the human person will only lead to an impoverishment of the Canadian mosiac—
—and ultimately a move towards totalitarianism. In the 20th century, those governments that would have striven to enforce secularism have been among the worst offenders against human rights.
The solution to this problem starts with the leadership in our country. Having any of the protected characteristics, such as religious belief, should not restrict access to power in this country. It should not affect a properly qualified member's right to sit in the House of Commons for a political party, or in fact be the chair of a commons committee. It is not a political football to be used to garner votes. It is something that every MP and every government should hold sacred and should not tamper with for political expediency.
Three physicians' organizations and five doctors have taken the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to court, asking the court to stop this active and virulent discrimination on the basis of religious belief and violation of conscience.
This was not a proper remedy.
First, it was expensive. It has cost us nearly $350,000 to date to vindicate our rights under the charter. Second, the resources of the college and the Government of Ontario, which acted as intervenors, were difficult for not-for-profit organizations to challenge. Finally, the damage has already been done. Many hundreds of Ontario physicians now know that their regulator and their government do not respect their deeply held religious beliefs and that members of the staff of the college feel that these doctors should not be able to practise medicine.
Even if we get a decision in our favour, how will we ever be able to overcome the prejudicial attitudes that have already poisoned the Ontario health care system?
I think dialogue is where everything starts and where everything ends. We need to speak to each other. We need dialogue.
Again, the context of the dialogue is extremely important. I can tell you in absolute honesty why my community is not very engaged in dialogue with other groups that come from the same nation, Muslim groups. It's because there's a very strong sense of denial of what's happening in their own community. Many of the Egyptian expatriate Muslim groups do not admit that there's discrimination in Egypt. They do not admit that Christians are rejected.
If you look at the proportions of the Egyptian expatriate population in Canada, it's about 70% Christian and 30% Muslim, whereas the population in Egypt is almost the opposite, with 90% Muslim. Why do Christians leave the Middle East? Is it because they don't like the land of their birth? When you are engaged in dialogue with groups that do not admit to causing the pain that you've suffered in your life, it's very difficult to continue that dialogue.
Dialogue is important, but it has to be frank and honest. We have to be able to speak to each other honestly about our pain. Of course, most Muslims have not participated in events or killed anybody. We all know that. Most of them are excellent citizens who want to have an excellent life in Canada. However, it's still important to be engaged and to be honest about the societies we come from. When you meet with other religious groups for dialogue, it is important to be able to actually listen to them, not to immediately jump into a defensive stance. Unfortunately, that's what often happens when interreligious dialogue starts.
Al-Azhar, which I've quoted several times, has been very much engaged in that. They're happy to engage in dialogue with the Pope and with others, as long as Islamophobia is on the top of the list.
—that terms evolve. For example, the term “homophobia” would be very poorly translated as a fear of homosexuals. It's clearly understood to be the discrimination against homosexuals, the LGBTQ2 community in total.
Third, you said that basically you don't believe systemic racism exists in this country. I would just put it to you that we heard extensive testimony from witnesses, including from indigenous witnesses and black Canadians, about their perceptions of being categorically juxtaposed to that. It's important not to present submissions here that are based purely on personal experience or anecdote; it is important to look at the lay of the land writ large. People would point to the residential school system and the overrepresentation of indigenous persons and blacks in the criminal justice system as examples of systemic discrimination.
You stated that the government is “powerless” because you feel that there are already laws that exist, particularly laws that deal with hate speech and hate promotion. What we've heard from witnesses and what we will continue to hear from witnesses is how to perfect legislation—for example, how to encourage reporting of hate crimes or how to encourage prosecutions of hatred. We will have witnesses coming to speak to that.
What you did say later on, or came around to in response to other questions, is that there could be room for church groups, community groups, and advocacy groups to have some of this dialogue that we were just talking about.
I want to put it to you, because I don't think we share your despondence: is there space for the government to show leadership on this issue and get those church groups, community groups, and advocacy groups talking to one another, through funding mechanisms or by showing other leadership?
Lastly, sir, you've taken issue with the term “Islamophobia” in this motion—
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Dr. Emil, I'm going to express the concern I have regarding our moving forward in this committee with a recommendation to condemn Islamophobia without defining Islamophobia, and it's this. In France, a very civilized country, we recently saw a distinguished French historian, Georges Bensoussan, of North African Jewish ancestry, up on hate crime charges for quoting another French writer or filmmaker who is also of North African descent, who said that “in Arab families in France and beyond, everybody knows but will not say that anti-Semitism is transmitted with mother’s milk.”
This perhaps is unfair, but I'm not sure it qualifies as hate speech. He was charged with criminal hate speech, eventually acquitted, and that acquittal is now being appealed by the umbrella organization to fight Islamophobia in France. The fear I have is that this is the danger of not trying to define it, and that's why I asked about the definition earlier that focuses purely on violence, discrimination, and racism against Muslims.
If we put in wording like this and specifically say that we don't mean other kinds of definitions of Islamophobia, that we reject all forms of Islamophobia, that we just mean the one I described, just the violence and discrimination, couldn't that serve as a useful legal definition for Canada?
Thank you, Madam Chair and the honourable committee.
I am grateful to be given the opportunity to discuss some of my concerns about M-103, the anti-Islamophobia motion introduced by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid.
First of all, I would like to inform the committee that I am a Muslim woman and continue to identify as one. I have children, grandchildren, and other relatives living in Canada who also identify as Muslims, and some visibly so. The events of the past two decades have cast aspersions on the Muslim community as a whole and have engendered a degree of anti-Muslim sentiment. We have also witnessed the murder of six Muslim men in a Quebec mosque. It was all very tragic.
It would be a legitimate goal if one were to investigate the causes of hatred and resentment toward Muslims. Many Canadians from both Liberal and Conservative backgrounds would have no objections to investigating the causes, but while I consider anti-Muslim sentiment to be palpable in some situations, I object both to the spirit and wording of M-103.
I originally come from a country where blasphemy is considered a crime against the state. The term “Islamophobia” poses a unique problem in the way it is understood in Islamic nations as well as among the majority of Muslims, some of whom espouse a deeply obscurantist understanding of Islam. This understanding does not allow for any criticism of Islamic precept and practice. It can include criticism of Islam, Islamic culture, practices, and Muslims.
In my view, no ideology is to be regarded as sacrosanct in this manner. In the western world, we are allowed to challenge Christianity, the prevalent religion, and other belief systems, faith traditions, cultures, and practices.
It was my hope that challenges to some of the practices upheld by the Islamic orthodoxy would have come from a greater number of moderate Muslims themselves. They would have been perceived by the general public as wanting to distance themselves from practices like polygamy, jihad, and violence. It was my hope that they would protest acts of terror against non-Muslims as forcefully as they do when Muslims are killed as a result of what is perceived as non-Muslim aggression. They would work hard to embrace Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance.
The committee has a mandate to investigate reasons for growing anti-Muslim sentiment. My own personal reading of the situation is that the causes for such resentment are as plain as day: Muslims are increasingly under suspicion because the Muslim narrative is in the hands of fundamentalists who demand excessive faith accommodations, such as demanding Friday prayer services during school hours that are known to cause disruptions in schools, as well as making demands for something akin to anti-blasphemy laws.
The Muslim narrative is in the hands of those espousing political Islam. It is only because of this group—and not the majority of Muslims, who simply wish to live their lives in peace and harmony—that Muslims as a whole tend to be seen in a negative light. The majority of Muslims who are moderate have not been visible enough to distance themselves from such demands.
Presently, Muslims are disliked primarily, in my opinion, because of this demand for M-103. The hatred many say they are experiencing is, in fact, the direct result of this particular demand. I consider it more of a backlash than entrenched bigotry. These reasons for anti-Muslim sentiment are, in my view, quite obvious.
However, here I am concerned mainly about the word “Islamophobia”.
In this regard, I fail to understand why the House would not agree on a more precise term to combat anti-Muslim sentiment. The term “Islamophobia” is often falsely equated with the term “anti-Semitism”. MP Khalid has also alluded to an equivalence between the two, yet the two are vastly different.
What is the House's reason for adopting a term that has clearly Islamist overtones, is uncomfortably vague, and in fact dilutes the purpose for which it is overtly intended?
A common dictionary meaning of anti-Semitism is “hostility to or prejudice against Jews”.
Islamophobia, on the other hand, also includes criticism of Islam as a religion. The common dictionary meaning is “intense dislike or fear of Islam, esp. as a political force; hostility or prejudice towards Muslims".
Honourable committee members, I have no objections to investigating causes of anti-Muslim bigotry, but I have grave fears about including the word “Islamophobia” in the motion. Allow me to surmise the reasons behind the insistence on the word by what I consider to be some obscurantist forces.
I believe it is part of the Islamist agenda in Canada to include criticism of Islam and Islamic practice in the west rather than simply attributing the causes of anti-Muslim sentiment in the west to anti-Muslim bigotry. Use of the term “Islamophobia” sets a dangerous trend, given the connotations the word has in Islamic countries and in some Muslim circles in the west.
We often hear from M-103 supporters that the motion is not binding and does not affect anyone's entitlement to repudiate anything they object to, including certain orthodox Islamic and fundamentalist practices, yet the vagueness of the word “Islamophobia” tends to make it all-inclusive. It compromises a person's freedom to criticize and challenge, because without a clear definition to apply to M-103, a person would not want to test its limits. In short, the way M-103 is worded is more of a political tool, the way I see it.
I am Muslim, but I'm also a proud Canadian and I do not wish for Canada's cherished values, such as freedom of speech, to be compromised in this fashion, even if it is in the slightest way. In my opinion, M-103 does that, even though there are claims to the contrary, claims that it is not binding. Dare I say that I consider the demand for an endorsement for such a motion an unpatriotic act, as it casts an unfounded and harsh judgment on Canada's laws and society? It is unfortunate that MP experienced racism at school, but it is also this very country that has given her the opportunity to be a member of Parliament, along with other Muslims.
No system or ideology ought to be beyond reproach and questioning. It is only through questioning that we are able to address the wrongs of the past and move forward toward achieving a better world. The ideology of political Islam should also not be made inviolable, but if the term “Islamophobia” is not eliminated from the motion, it will potentially include jeopardizing any criticism of orthodox Islamic practice , despite MP 's assurances.
In the context of M-103, the term remains ill-defined, and my recommendation is for the House to eliminate it. I also feel that no one has the right to tell me what I should say or think about Islam. I think history has always been on the side of people who do speak out—not the cowards.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair, for the opportunity to appear to offer my thoughts on the issue before the committee: systemic racism and religious discrimination.
My views are informed by my work as senior fellow at Cardus, Canada's faith-based think tank, where I focus on issues around religious freedom and public faith. They are also informed by the extensive work I did with different faith communities, both domestically and abroad, as Canada's Ambassador for Religious Freedom from 2013 to 2016. Finally, they are a reflection of my Catholic faith.
Let me offer six preliminary thoughts on this topic as points of departure for my comments on the need for promoting genuine and deep pluralism in Canada that is respectful of difference.
First, the fact that Canada is a diverse country is self-evident. It is diverse ethnically, socio-economically, religiously, ideologically, and so on, and that is a very good thing.
Second, as a community of human beings in this country, struggling to live a common life, we often get it wrong, and we erect barriers between ourselves that limit genuine engagement and dialogue with one another.
Third, there is racism and religious discrimination in Canada. There has always been, and there will always be this type of racism and religious discrimination in Canada. In our country today, Muslims, Christians, Jews, and others face discrimination variously because of who they are, what they believe, what they wear, and what they value, all of which can be at odds with what secular elites in this country believe to be true.
On the question of Islamophobia, this is a very vague term. I would say it is not the best term to have in the motion, unless it is very clearly bounded and defined.
Let's be clear on what needs to be addressed, as many of your other witnesses have said. We need to address anti-Muslim hatred that exists in this country. This is a hatred that is bred from three specific evils—ignorance, indifference, and fear—all of which must be addressed at the level of our own communities. These selfsame evils manifest themselves in hatred of Jews, hatred of Catholics, hatred of LGBTQ persons, hatred of people who oppose same-sex marriage, hatred of first nations people, hatred of pro-lifers, and the list goes on. We need to combat hatred and discrimination in all these cases. We need to combat hatred and discrimination in our communities and discover anew the dignity we each bear by learning to talk to one another again and learning to respect and champion differences that exist. Government can help to better facilitate this by encouraging greater public expressions of religious faith and different beliefs so that we can hear one another and talk to one another again.
With regard to the subject at hand, the Government of Canada's role is to uphold the Constitution and to guarantee the freedoms we bear as citizens. These freedoms are not the gift of government. They are borne by us as citizens by virtue of our humanity. In upholding freedoms such as freedom of religion, freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, and freedom of association, the government and the courts should have a very broad understanding of these freedoms and allow them to be largely free of restrictions, except where such limits can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
This is a society that must be founded upon respect for difference, even when beliefs are so different that they are seen to run counter to the prevailing narrative of the day, whatever that might be. The government should be careful to not be too prescriptive of freedoms. As well, I would say that Parliament should be careful to not be too prescriptive of freedoms either within government institutions or in the broader society, thereby imposing undue limits on freedoms.
Finally, to respect and to champion difference is to promote a deep and genuine pluralism in which disagreement—even deep disagreement—is allowed. In our disagreements with one another we must always exhibit great charity, recognizing the inherent dignity we all bear as human beings.
Let me now speak further about this deep and genuine pluralism.
A common civic life without debate and encounter between us is no civic life at all. Too often in our country these days, we either shy away from engaging our fellow citizens or we engage them in a confrontational way, often via the perceived anonymity of what I would say is the profoundly disconnected world of social media. This is emblematic of an increasingly uncommon life, and it is not sustainable.
As Aristotle asserted in his Nicomachean Ethics, the pursuit of the common good is founded upon human flourishing. This understanding of what is at the core of our social, economic, and political lives has been affirmed by many since Aristotle, including by St. Thomas Aquinas from my own Catholic tradition. I would assert that the common good of human flourishing must be the very heart of our understanding of what pluralism is.
Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the advancement of human flourishing and the associated commitment to pluralism must be deeply rooted in the championing of human dignity above all else in our common life. I say “above all else” because this dignity comes from God.
In championing human dignity, we must not only recognize but respect that we believe different things and that we hold different views on what is most important in human life. Often these different views and beliefs are profoundly different and can cause us to feel ill at ease, or they might at times even raise our ire. So long as all that we say and do is said and done charitably, in a manner that is respectful of the other and their inherent human dignity, then we can agree to disagree. Even in that disagreement, we can encounter one another.
As a Catholic Christian, my understanding of the dignity of the human person is grounded in my belief that we are all made in the image and likeness of God. I believe that this reality was made present among us when God became man in the person of Jesus Christ, he who is fully human and fully divine, without commixture or confusion in his two natures and his two wills, one in the Holy Trinity, one God in three persons. He is the saviour and redeemer of the world.
Now, many of you here reject this view and affirm a belief that is radically different from my own. Likewise, I would reject what many of you believe, yet here we are, side by side, living in this place we call Canada, our country. Our common life together is enriched by our difference, as well as by our shared goals for this country and, please God, for each other.
In conclusion, to advance a deep and genuine pluralism, we must effect a cultural shift in this country at all levels, from Parliament on down and from local communities on up, to enable all citizens to live their religious faith and beliefs publicly, including in professions, in our universities and our schools, in our cultural institutions, and in our legislatures and public services.
I would urge honourable members of this committee to assert this in Parliament and in your deliberations on this motion. We must further our public faith. That public faith can be based on difference, the freedom to say, “I don't believe that Muhammad is the prophet”, the freedom for a Muslim to say, “I don't believe that Jesus is the son of God”. These are differences that we need to allow to exist within our society in a spirit of charity and a spirit of openness. That's what a free and democratic society is based upon.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I can take the four minutes.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Dr. Budhendranauth Doobay: Thank you, Madam Chairman and members of the committee, for allowing me to express my views as a Hindu.
Racial discrimination and religious intolerance are inherent among all human beings. We all have discrimination. If we feel that by coming here and pretending that we are going to solve it.... We all have it. What I'm trying to say is that we must try to see how best we can work together to understand one another, see the good values of each other, and see that there is only one order. I am not calling it God; it's an order. There's an order in the universe that causes the sun to rise up in the east and go down in the west. You can call it various names. If we see that order, understand that order, we will be living happily. If we keep saying my religion is better than your religion.... All wars have been fought over religion.
In regard to our context here today, as I said, the world is not a perfect place. As an ideal, the pursuit of perfection should not be discouraged, but for practical reasons and in the context of human behaviour, such pursuits must remain in the realms of idealism. Therefore, a major plank of my presentation is that you must not forget that Canada has already advanced very far in the acknowledgement of ethnic and religious diversity and the pursuit of systemic and individual tolerance of such diversities.
Failure to overtly acknowledge the progress made in this context and to push too hard or too quickly for further accommodation risks a boomerang and the deleterious effects of push-back. Already one can see the signs of the latter among our neighbours to the south and our friends across Europe. There will always be fringe elements that will insensitively ignore the iconic Canadian progress in ethnic and religious tolerance, and while failing to be appreciative of their good fortune of being in Canada, will unduly exaggerate imagined or small incidents of intolerance as if they were back in the countries from which they have fled. This is very important.
Attitudinal and behavioural changes cannot be rushed. They stand better chances of success if they are pursued sensitively through education, discussion, and persuasion as opposed to frontal or aggressive systemic or legislative means.
If you go to where our temple is, you see that we try to involve the community. We have the Wall of Peace. If you look at the picture on the screen, besides the horrors on the top part, on the bottom you'll see Mandela. I won't say much about Aung San Suu Kyi today. We have Jesus Christ and the Om symbol from Buddhism. Down at the bottom we have Islam, Judaism, and so forth.
What I'm trying to say is that here is a place where we say that all religions are good. If you're a Muslim, be a good Muslim. If you're a Christian, be a good Christian. Live your life the way you are dictated. To do this, we should involve the community. I am a member, and the Government of Canada representative, on the Global Centre for Pluralism, of which His Highness the Aga Khan is the chairman. This is one of the tenets we are working together on. Most of you know this because of the beautiful museum that has been built here, and the one in Toronto, where he embraces this exact thing.
In terms of my personal experience when I came to Canada, I was offered a job at the University of Toronto as a vascular surgeon. I went to the professor and chair of the department. He asked me, “Did you do your residency here?” I said, “No, I was trained in England. I studied in Jamaica.” This was 30 or 40 years ago; I'm not aging myself.
“He said, “Do you know what? This job is reserved for our boys.” I took it. They told me to write against it; I said no. Then I went to McMaster. I became a professor of cardiovascular surgery there, and I had no discrimination whatsoever.
If you can do your work well, if you are not afraid of anyone, and you can project your image properly.... I'm not saying there is no discrimination. I don't want to be too racial here, but if a policeman stops a nice blonde girl and she smiles at him, most likely he will not give a ticket. All of us notice, but we will not say. If he sees a black guy, you know he'll give him a ticket. Not only that, he might bring him down to the station. All of us notice, but because we are politicians, we have to do what we have to do. These discriminations exist. It's not only Islamophobia; it's lots of phobias. Blackphobia, indigenous people—they're all suffering from the same thing, and it's because we do not reach out to the communities.
What we did was we decided we were going to do a peace garden.
In the peace garden, we have the statue of Mahatma Gandhi. Do you see this monument? This is a monument that we have erected to fallen Canadian soldiers. We bring all of Richmond Hill, all the people around there, and we show them what our ethnicity is and what our culture is. We have the statue of Gandhi, the largest statue of Gandhi in Canada, and we tell them, “This is the way of peace.” I think the way is to try to let people understand what our....
Madam Chairwoman, you'll have to give me extra time, because this thing is not working.
Anyway, we have a peace park, and in the peace park, we tell people to come and see what peace is about. We tell them to come there, learn about peace, and learn about meditation.
The basic tenets of Hinduism, which I belong to, is that you see God in all beings, not only humans, and this is why Hindus are typically vegetarians. Can you imagine all those people who are fighting against the killing of tigers? They're all vegetarians. Here you are; if you are a Christian, be a good Christian. I do not think any religion, such as Islam, promotes violence or intolerance. Therefore, if we all seriously follow our religion and culture, there should be no discrimination in thought or action.
Madam Chairwoman, in conclusion, I would like to say that although I suffered discrimination at the beginning, at this moment in Canada I do not see any discrimination at my level, or in Hinduism. There is no such thing as “Hinduphobia”. Can you imagine? When people speak about religion, they speak about Christianity, or they speak about Judaism, which is about one-thousandth of the number of Hindus, or they speak about Islam, which is a big population, but nobody talks about Hinduism. Do you ever hear Hindus object to it? We say, “Oh well, forget about them. If they don't want to speak about Hindus, then don't speak about us. We are not going to be bothered about that.” We want to assimilate people. We want to teach people together. To that effect, on November 4, we are having a Hindu day to let people come to see what Hinduism is. We invite the community; we invite members of Parliament.
One thing is that our politicians should not pander to sects of people for votes. I think one of the speakers spoke about that much earlier. We do that, and when we do that, we cause lots of intolerance for the people who are from here. If our politicians can work properly and understand that when they come and pander to one religious group, other religious groups get intolerant about this.... That's a very serious fact.
I would like to conclude, Madam Chairwoman and the rest of the committee. Thank you for having me.
I think we should let people understand their religion. We cannot come from a different country and try to enforce all our rules and regulations here. If you come to Canada, you must live like Canadians. I'm not saying we should not know our culture. Of course we should know our culture. We must know our culture and we must know our religion, but we belong to Canada. Observe the Canadian rules, do what Canadian law says, and bring people together. By bringing people together, by having more ecumenical services, by having services between all the religious groups together, which we do at our temple, we help to cement people together.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I'll start with a comment to Dr. Bennett, and then I'll ask Ms. Hassan a question.
Dr. Bennett, you mentioned that some people have deeply held religious beliefs that they can't park at the front door. I would submit to you that virtually every Canadian has deeply held beliefs. Some of them are people who are atheists. People who characterize themselves as agnostic actually have some kind of a deeply rooted, underlying set of beliefs.
I see you nodding, so I suspect you agree.
The point I'm really getting at here, and this is an editorial on my part, is that I think we all have these beliefs of some sort. Some of us are Christian, others Muslim, others atheist, and so on. The problem is when government starts to privilege one set of beliefs over another and says that your beliefs must be left at the door if you have this set and not that set. I'm not talking about the advocacy of violence, which some people purport is part of some deeply held set of beliefs; I'm talking about perfectly legal points of view that, if you have them, make you into some kind of deplorable.
That's just my editorial. I'm sorry; I should give you the right of reply, but I really want to go to Ms. Hassan.
People have been saying, as you heard earlier, that M-103 does not have legislative power. It's a motion, and that's true. However, it calls upon us to write a report to the government, advising them—we're supposed to study this—on how they can develop a whole-of-government approach to eliminating or reducing systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia. That implies that we may well be looking at some form of legislation and at recommending some form of legislation.
The nature of that wording makes it very hard for us as a committee to say that we're setting aside the word “Islamophobia” and instead focusing on what I would have preferred us to focus on, which is an approach to reducing or eliminating all forms of violence, systemic racism, religious intolerance, and discrimination towards Muslims—and, coincidentally, towards Hindus, Christians, Jews, atheists, and others. Given the fact that we're almost certainly going to be pushed into a situation in which the majority on this committee will insist that we include the word “Islamophobia”, would it be satisfactory to define “Islamophobia” as I've just done—that is to say, violence or systemic racism, religious intolerance, or discrimination towards Muslims? Would that be a way of squaring the circle, as it were?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair, and thank you to all the witnesses for their presentations.
I'd like to focus on one aspect. Mr. Bennett, I think it was you who offered the comment that there is racism and religious discrimination in Canada. It was something to the effect that there always has been, and I suspect, sadly, that there always will be. To that end, that's where my interest is in terms of this motion, and I think that's the spirit in which this motion was brought about.
There is a lot of discussion about different definitions. I'm not going to get into that debate, because you can spend all day doing that.
What I want to get into, though, are actions that can be taken to address this issue, recognizing that, yes, there is discrimination. Religious discrimination and racism have always been there and always will be, but to the degree to which we can assist in minimizing racism and religious discrimination, what actions can we take as a government in moving forward? Some have suggested a national strategy on anti-racism. Some have suggested, within that strategy, to also put a parallel piece on religious discrimination. I'd like to get your feedback on what action you think this committee should be recommending to the government to address exactly that issue.
The onus should not be on government alone. The onus should be on the communities, as I have alluded to. The onus should be on the communities not to ghettoize themselves and to absorb people around them.
We are new. Those who have been here five generations are no longer new, but we are new. When we are new and we come here, we want people to understand who we are and that we are here for one thing: to work in peace and harmony. To do this, you have to involve the people in the community—neighbours, citizens, the mayor, the town council, the member of Parliament—and let them get to know you. When we do not ghettoize ourselves and we expose ourselves to everyone, they all understand that we are human beings just like them. We eat the same food, wear the same clothes, and have the same objectives. We may worship differently; that's about it. However, when we ghettoize ourselves, we raise the ire of people around us.
There are questions to raise about what government can do. Government in its wisdom can encourage this sort of thing by encouraging people of different faiths to get together and by letting them know that they can't bring the old ways of the old country here to do their own wars, whatever country they come from.
We have to know that we come to Canada. Why do we come here? Because we get a good life. Therefore, we must thank the government, work with the government, and come together. I mentioned the Aga Khan projects and so on. These are some people who are bringing people together. We can't want government to do everything for us.
The worst wars are religious wars. You know that, right? Whether you shake your head or not, the worst wars are caused by religion. Again I want to say that if a community is mostly Hindu or mostly Muslim and we pander to them, we cause lots of difficulties. The communities have to work together, and government should try to see if they can encourage that. That's what I think.