Unaccustomed as I am to speaking for less than 10 minutes, I'll do my best.
It's good to be here with all of you. I'm actually not representing any organization. I'm really not representing myself, either, just sharing with you the experiences I've had over the years. I'm delighted to be here at a table that really, without exaggerating, is almost like a hall of fame of human rights and activism in the spheres of making Canada into a more inclusive and better country.
Let me begin with the obvious, which is to thank you, Madam Chair, and the committee for these efforts that you're doing. We applaud them, and I will share with you—probably going into this from left field rather than going straight—a unique experience that I had somewhere around 12 years ago.
At that point in time, one of the major issues confronting the school system here in Ottawa was the question of school bullying. It came back again a bit later on, but this is an ongoing situation. To a certain extent, bullying in schools is almost like a microcosm of the bigger issue, which is taking advantage of the vulnerable, and the reality of exclusion as opposed to the embrace of inclusion.
At that point in time, we founded something called Kindness Week in Ottawa, which was going at this not from the approach of, let's say, attacking the bad stuff, but rather trying to promote the good stuff. Instead of this idea of saying you shouldn't bully, which we know is true, we wanted to go at it from a positive approach and to emphasize the things we should be doing and promoting.
This actually caught on. It's still going on now. We're coming up to the 13th year of Kindness Week in Ottawa.
A number of years ago, because of the fact that this program worked so well, we started an organization called Kind Canada Généreux, which is emphasizing on a national level the things we need to do to make Canada into a kinder place.
One of the things we're doing right now is working on a school curriculum going from kindergarten to grade 12 in all English, French, and first nation schools. It will still be a year or two or three before we'll be able to implement it, but the idea behind it is to create a climate of kindness, consideration, and embrace.
I have a bit of a problem with the word “tolerance”. I'm not sure that you've been using this word, but over the course of time, the word “tolerance” keeps on coming up. They want us to be a tolerant country. I know, and I think everybody would agree, that one of the worst things is to have a country that is intolerant, but right next to intolerance is a country that is tolerant, because tolerance is actually not much before intolerance. It's a demeaning and condescending word.
I'm much more in favour of the positive, the harmonious, the respect, the embrace, and the inclusion, not avoiding the negative—which then becomes a negative in itself— but rather to say we have to build a culture in which we appreciate everyone with their differences. The kindness approach that we're advocating in the curriculum is emphasizing the positive and giving people something to grasp on to in terms of the way they should be interacting with others.
We're all here today because we recognize the importance of this idea and we realize that there is a bully pulpit. I've used the pulpit all the time, but not as a bully; it wouldn't be kind to be a bully. However, there is a bully pulpit in terms of encouraging in all spheres all across Canada the idea of inclusivity, the idea of the harmony that comes from the embrace of everyone, and the idea of things like encouraging schools to have this type of a program and encouraging workplaces to have programs that really emphasize and build on the idea that we are who we are because everyone is able to be part of this great country. This is the idea that we're approaching at Kind Canada, and this is the idea that I would strongly suggest.
My colleagues will do a lot better than I could in terms of the legislation and the nitty-gritty of it. I am coming at it from another angle in terms of what we can do on a positive level to eliminate these problems—not by attacking them per se, but by emphasizing the greatness inherent in all of us to make Canada an even better country.
Whatever minutes I have left, I gladly cede to my colleagues.
We'll be splitting our time.
Thank you, Madam Chair. We thank the committee for inviting us to appear.
My colleague, David Matas, our senior legal counsel, will speak to elaborate on some of our key points. We have documentation available and can provide additional materials to support our testimony.
B'nai Brith Canada is this country's oldest national Jewish organization, founded in 1875, with the proud history of defending the human rights of Canadian Jews and all Canadians across the country. We advocate for the interests of the grassroots Jewish community in Canada and for their rights such as freedom of conscience and religion.
B'nai Brith addresses the twin challenges of anti-Semitism and hate speech, linking them to the broader threat of discrimination and human rights, a universal issue that affects all Canadians and individuals everywhere. Anti-Semitism is but a visible portion of the dangers inherent generally in prejudice and discrimination.
The committee has an opportunity to study how all Canadians can face the challenges that exist for at-risk communities, those suffering from systemic racism and religious discrimination. The committee's work and its outcome must be embraced broadly by all Canadians, and it must deal with those communities that are the targets of racism and discrimination, including Canadian Jews, who continue to be the target of anti-Semitism.
The committee's work and its outcome must not diminish or be perceived to diminish the threat to Canadians of all faith communities who face racism and religious discrimination, and it must not suggest that one form of racism or religious discrimination is more threatening or of a greater priority than any other.
The committee's work and its outcome must exercise great care in any definition of Islamophobia, if indeed any is attempted. Any definition that is vague and imprecise, that is embraced by one community but not all, or that catalyzes emotion or irrational debate on scope and meaning can by hijacked and only inflame tensions between and among faith communities in Canada and detract from the committee's objective.
My colleague, David Matas, will explore the continued threat of anti-Semitism in Canada. Contrary to the views of some, anti-Semitism is not confined to the margins of our society. Since 1982, B'nai Brith Canada has published an annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents in Canada, copies of which you have. Over a five-year period, anti-Semitism has been on the rise. Statistics Canada has reported that in 2015, the most recent year with complete figures, Jews were the most targeted group in this country for hate crimes, a serious trend that has been continuing for nine years.
While most anti-Semitic hate crimes in the 1980s and 1990s were attributable to elements of the far right, we have sadly witnessed an increasing number of anti-Jewish incidents from within the Muslim community, sometimes by those claiming to act or speak in the name of Islam. We know that this trend is of concern to many leaders in the Muslim community, just as it is within the Jewish community.
Thus, we strongly endorse the importance for your work on M-103 to be broad-based. An unbalanced emphasis on Islamophobia creates the impression that Canadian Muslims are the only victims of hate crimes. We are just as concerned with the source of hate crimes targeting Canadian Jews from within radical elements of the Muslim community. We have exposed several such incidents and are concerned that the law is not being rigorously enforced to deal with those hate crimes.
The committee has an opportunity to address this trend and consider actions to counter it through laying out the facts, advocacy education, and stressing the consequences to be faced by those who act contrary to the charter and the Criminal Code. A message to law enforcement must be this: enforce the law.
Canada cannot become a haven for anti-Muslim bigotry. B'nai Brith Canada sees anti-Semitism as but a visible portion of the dangers inherent generally in prejudice and discrimination, including that directed towards Muslim Canadians. By the same token, we must ensure that no one can hide behind the idea that any criticism of Islam represents Islamophobia, or a vague definition to this effect.
Our hope is that the committee will continue to bear in mind that Canada's most targeted religious minority in terms of hate speech and hate crimes is the Jewish community, and we have some specific recommendations that we can address later on.
I'd like to thank you and respond in kind and say it is an honour to be here, particularly having you in the chair.
I realize that M-103 mentions only Islamophobia by name, but is not just about Islamophobia. All the same, I would suggest for the committee that Islamophobia cannot and should not be ignored, both the concept and the question of what to do about it.
Literally, “Islamophobia” means “irrational fear of Islam”. The concept acknowledges the existence of its opposite. Not every fear, for instance, of being confined in a tiny space is claustrophobia. Sometimes the fear is rational. Similarly, not every fear of Islam is Islamophobia. Sometimes that fear too is rational. Adherents to some components of Islam preach hatred and terrorism, incite hatred and terrorism, and engage in hate-motivated acts and terrorist crimes. Fear of these forms of Islam is a rational response to the threat they represent.
Anyone who is not afraid of, for instance, al Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, Islamic Jihad in Syria, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade in the West Bank, or al Shabaab in Somalia is foolhardy. Many terrorist Islamic groups are listed under Canadian legislation as terrorist entities. We have troops in Afghanistan training and advising in the combat against the Taliban. Fear of some elements of Islam is mere prudence.
Islamophobia is misplaced because it is overbroad. However, we must not be carried away by the combat against overbreadth and go to the opposite extreme of being too narrow, of ignoring or, even worse, of standing against the fear of those elements of Islam about which there is every reason to be afraid.
Islamophobia does not appear in a vacuum. It grows out of a fear of incitement to, and acts of, hatred and terrorism coming from elements of the Islamic community. Combatting Islamophobia effectively means targeting the real threats within the Islamic community and not the innocents who have no association with the threats.
While targeting a threat of incitement and acts of hatred and terror directly and proportionately is easier said than done, often difficult decisions have to be made. It is, I acknowledge, asking too much to expect the committee to go through the various measures that governments worldwide have adopted or proposed to combat the threats and acts of hatred and terror coming from Islamic radicals. We suggest that what the committee can easily do is propose criteria with illustrated examples that can guide those directly involved in the combat against the threatened acts of hatred and terror coming from Islamic radicals. The criteria and the guidance would help those involved determine whether a particular action intended to counter a threat from Islamic radicals is indeed proportionate or Islamophobic.
The House of Commons resolution calls for the committee study to use that holistic response. A holistic response, when it comes to Islamophobia, requires a dual focus: a focus both on those victimized by Islamophobia and on the incitement of acts of hatred and terrorism that come from within elements of the Islamic community.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
We appreciate the opportunity to present to members of this committee on behalf of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the advocacy agency of the Jewish Federations of Canada.
We are a national, non-partisan, non-profit organization representing more than 150,000 Jewish Canadians affiliated through local federations across the country. Like our sister organization, B'nai Brith, we are committed to working with government and all like-minded groups to ensure Canada remains a country where everyone enjoys equal opportunities and equal protections.
Canada is a tremendous country, particularly for members of minority groups. It is one of the most vibrantly diverse, inclusive, and respectful places in the world. However, hatred persists here in the margins of society. We must remain vigilant to ensure that hate does not gain a greater foothold and we must endeavour to push it ever further into the shadows.
Confronting hate is an all too familiar experience for Jewish Canadians. In report after report, Statistics Canada and police services across the country continue to confirm, as was noted just a moment ago, that Jews are the religious minority most targeted by hate-motivated crime, in both absolute numbers and on a per capita basis.
Nationally, there were 54 hate crimes targeting Jews per 100,000 individuals in 2015. While this number is relatively consistent with previous years, there was an increase in hate incidents targeting other minority communities, including the Muslim community. In fact, Muslims were the next most targeted group, with 15 incidents per 100,000 individuals.
Local numbers reinforce this. Let me give you some examples from the GTA, where the plurality of Jewish Canadians reside.
The Peel police service noted 23 incidents targeting Jews in 2016, which is a 155% increase over the nine incidents that occurred in 2015 and the highest increase in victimization of any identifiable group. Over that same period, there was a 92% reduction in hate crimes targeting Christians, from 13 to one, and a 54% reduction in those targeting Muslims, from 11 to five. Jews are around 0.2% of the population of Peel, but were targeted with 39% of all hate crimes. In the city of Toronto, the Jewish community is just 3.8% of the population, but was targeted in approximately 30% of hate crimes in 2016.
I mention these numbers not to showcase Jewish victimhood but to demonstrate the very real experience that our community has in grappling with the issues this committee is studying. At the same time, I want to note that percentages can sound alarming and misleading.
In York Region, anti-Jewish hate crimes decreased by more than 10%, while anti-Muslim hate crimes increased by more than 18% in 2016. This sounds significant until you look at the real numbers, which are a decrease from 19 to 17 incidents targeting Jews and an increase from 11 to 13 incidents targeting Muslims.
It's important that we not lose sight of the fact that on the whole, Canadians are incredibly welcoming, respectful, and accepting people and that hate crimes, though often jarring and sometimes horrifyingly tragic, are relatively infrequent occurrences. In Peel, 38,154 Criminal Code offences were reported in 2016. Of those, just 59, or 0.15%, were designated as hate-motivated. That said, one hate crime is too many.
Canada is a great place to be a minority. We believe the following constructive recommendations will help make it even better and we hope that each will be a point of consensus for this committee. I share with you four points.
Number one is improving data.
Currently, the collection and publication of hate crime and hate incident data varies widely by police department. I mentioned statistics from Peel, Toronto, and York Region, which are all readily available, but the reports from these three neighbouring jurisdictions each provide different information, so making direct comparisons is sometimes difficult. Other jurisdictions, such as Montreal, release no specific data regarding hate-motivated crime and which identifiable groups are being targeted. This practice has an impact on the national numbers compiled by Statistics Canada, leaving policy-makers, like each of you, with incomplete information.
This committee should recommend that the government establish uniform national guidelines and standards for the collection and handling of hate crime and hate incident data.
This step will help ensure that local, provincial, and national law enforcement consistently collect, catalogue, and publicize data regarding hate crimes and hate incidents. The more accurate and comprehensive the data available, the more appropriately efforts to counter hatred and bigotry in Canada can be calibrated to address the specific needs of the communities most impacted. Comprehensive empirical data is required to effectively diagnose the problems and prescribe the most appropriate solutions.
Number two is to define “hate”.
One can't effectively fight bigotry and hatred without precisely defining it. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of anti-Semitism was achieved through multilateral consensus endorsed by governments around the world, including Canada's, to accomplish just that. Concrete examples set clear standards for what constitutes anti-Jewish sentiment and what is legitimate critical expression. Similar definitions should be established for other forms of hate, based on careful consideration, common sense, and consensus.
The term “Islamophobia” has been defined in multiple ways, some effective and some problematic. Unfortunately, it has become a lightning rod for controversy, distracting from other important issues at hand. While some use the term “Islamophobia” to concisely describe prejudice against Muslims, others have expanded it significantly further to include opposition to political ideologies. For example, this October's Islamic Heritage Month guidebook issued by the Toronto District School Board contained a definition of Islamophobia that included, ”dislike...towards Islamic politics or culture”.
This incident exposes significant problems associated with relying on ad hoc, inadequate definitions of Islamophobia. Muslims can be protected from hate without restricting critique of ideologies, especially those that are explicitly anti-Semitic. Recent examples of anti-Semitism on display at some mosques and Muslim organizations in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver have shown that extremism is a problem within parts of the Canadian Muslim community that must be addressed.
As Canadians counter hatred and protect individuals from discrimination, we must also maintain the freedom to debate and criticize ideas. Defining other forms of hate—including, but not limited to, Islamophobia—along lines similar to the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is, we think, a good starting point. It would help law enforcement and others to identify hate incidents with greater accuracy and consistency and provide definitive guidance to Canadians about precisely where free speech turns into hate speech.
Next, when it comes to countering hate crimes, greater and more consistent enforcement of existing laws is needed. In many cases, hate crime prosecutions require the authorization of provincial Attorneys General. This can become highly politicized and can be a very difficult hurdle to overcome. Recently the Attorney General of Quebec decided not to lay charges in the case of an imam in Montreal who had called for the murder of Jews. On the charge of hate promotion, the statute of limitations had been exhausted.
In an era when statements can live on in perpetuity online, in this case on this particular mosque's YouTube channel, we believe the statute of limitations for hate promotion should be extended, and we encourage you to make that recommendation to the government.
Quebec's Attorney General also declined to pursue a second charge of genocide promotion. This decision sent a message that someone can call for the death of an entire group of people without consequence. We think that's the wrong message.
To address this situation, the federal government should establish a national training program for police and prosecutors to educate them about the dangers of hate speech and encourage them to enforce the existing Criminal Code hate speech provisions more consistently and more robustly.
Finally, federal government resources should be allocated to support the development of dedicated local police hate crime units. These units have been integrated into several police services across Canada and have constituted an unqualified success. Units specifically trained to investigate hate-motivated crime ensure that incidents are handled with particular sensitivity and understanding of the distinct nature of the crime and its impact on the victims, their families, and their communities.
Universalizing hate crime units would ensure that as many vulnerable Canadians as possible can benefit from these services that ensure the officers responding to hate incidents are the best equipped to do so.
Had this committee been conducting these hearings a year ago, I would have had an additional recommendation to share. Instead, Madam Chair, I would like to conclude with this.
I'd like to express our gratitude to members of this House for supporting Bill and your colleague Chandra for bringing it forward. CIJA has long advocated for these changes, which will expand penalties for hate crimes targeting infrastructure such as community centres of identifiable groups. As we speak, the bill has just passed its final vote in the House before becoming law.
Bill is a clear example, Madam Chairman, of how elected officials can work together in the spirit of consensus and common sense to make a practical difference in protecting vulnerable minorities. I'm hopeful that the committee members will similarly unite around the approach I have outlined here today.
Good afternoon, Madam Chair and committee members.
I appear here today on behalf of the African Canadian Legal Clinic. The ACLC was established in 1994. Our mandate is quite specific. We are a non-profit organization committed to combatting systemic and institutional anti-black racism in Canadian society. We represent and advocate on behalf of the African-Canadian community and we condemn all forms of systemic racism and Islamophobia.
I want to start off by thanking the committee for meeting with stakeholders in order to develop a thorough and comprehensive understanding of systemic racism and Islamophobia and to canvass ways in which to effectively and efficiently address these issues in our current diverse Canadian society. The ACLC fully supports this motion.
The African descendant community in Canada has many various intersecting identities, and many members of our community identify as Muslim. Members of our community are often targets of both systemic racism and Islamophobia. In today's diverse, pluralistic Canadian society, it is more important than ever that our government speak up and speak out against hate, racism, and religious intolerance through not only its words but by taking concrete action towards understanding, addressing, and eradicating systemic racism in Canada.
This motion is particularly important in a Canada that has seen a spike in anti-Muslim sentiment and a rise in white supremacist activity. According to a report released by Juristat this past June, black people in Canada have experienced the highest number of race-based hate crimes up to as recently as 2015. Between 2010 and 2015, over half of the violent hate crimes targeting black populations were committed by a stranger. Moreover, 65% of hate crimes were non-violent, and 55% of those non-violent crimes were recorded as being mischief. A terrifying 35% of hate crimes committed against black people in Canada between 2010 and 2015 were violent. Nineteen percent of these reported hate crimes were instances of assault.
These statistics only represent those hate crimes that were reported to the police. As has been mentioned by others, considering the tenuous relationship between the black community and the police, it's not hard to believe that those hate crimes that have been reported are vastly under-representive of the total number of hate crimes targeting black bodies in Canada. This motion presents a starting point for the government to begin taking concrete action to eradicate racial discrimination in this country.
My comments today will focus on systemic anti-black racism in Canada.
For those who may not be familiar with the term, anti-black racism is a form of systemic and institutionalized racism that specifically targets the black community. The ACLC defines anti-black racism as:
|...the racial prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination that is directed at people of African Descent, rooted in their unique history and experience of enslavement. It is manifested in the legacy and racist ideologies that continue to define African descendants' identities, their lives and places them at the bottom of society and as primary targets of racism. It is manifested in the legacy of the current social, economic, and political marginalization of African Canadians in society such as the lack of opportunities, lower socio-economic status, higher unemployment, significant poverty rates and over-representation in the criminal justice system. Anti-Black racism is characterized by particularly virulent and pervasive racial stereotypes. Canadian courts and various Commissions have repeatedly recognized the pervasiveness of anti-Black stereotyping and the fact that African Canadians are the primary targets of racism in Canadian society.
The various manifestations of systemic anti-black racism are, as I've said, broad and pervasive, with roots in our country's history of slavery and segregation. As recognized by the United Nations working group of experts on people of African descent in its report on its mission in Canada, which was released and adopted by the UN this past September, African descendants have been present in Canada for over 300 years, since the early 17th century. From that time until its abolition in 1834, slavery was also present and thriving in Canada. Even after slavery was abolished, African descendants in Canada faced legal and de facto segregation in every area of life. In fact, the last segregated school in Ontario closed as recently as 1965. It was not until 1983 that the last segregated school in Nova Scotia closed.
The situation of African Canadians is not improving, despite appearances to the opposite on the surface of Canadian society. The disparities resulting from slavery and segregation of the African descendant community in Canada are still very much alive. These disparities largely result from how those who historically have occupied positions of influence and power and who have historically not been black view black people, black bodies, and black families.
There continues to be a persistent trend of inequality and inequity when it comes to the African descendant community in Canada. African-Canadian youth are disproportionately apprehended by child welfare agencies, inappropriately and inequitably disciplined and streamed in schools, and trapped within the school-to-prison pipeline. African-Canadian men are overrepresented in corrections, where they are given neither the cultural programming nor the skills training nor the job opportunities needed to avoid re-incarceration. African-Canadian women are paid less than both African-Canadian men and white women in the workplace for doing the same work. The African-Canadian community is struggling with poverty, precarious housing, and untreated mental health issues, and we continue to be routinely profiled and targeted by the police, as is the case when African-Canadian men and youth are stopped and then carded by police officers, oftentimes for simply being in the wrong neighbourhood.
These are only a few of the instances of systemic anti-black racism. These are real stories. They occur every day. The ACLC hears these types of complaints on a weekly basis, and unfortunately our intake numbers have yet to drop.
In our recent submissions to the UN's Universal Periodic Review of Canada and to the UN's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, CERD, we included extensive statistics and case studies that truly exemplify the nature and existence of systemic anti-black racism in Canada. These submissions can be readily provided should you wish to examine the numbers for yourselves. Sadly, none of this is new. In 1992, Stephen Lewis recognized the prevalence of anti-black racism in his report on race relations to the Ontario premier of the day.
How does Canada approach this historic and pervasive problem? There are several suggestions that could be made, but today I will focus on a key few. Several of these, I believe, are reiterations of recommendations you have already heard from other community stakeholders.
First, the federal government must implement a mandatory nationwide disaggregated race-based data collection policy and strategy. It is impossible to solve a problem when you are unable to identify where the issue lies, or its gravity. This data collection must be mandatory across all federal and provincial ministries, agencies, and boards. The federal government needs to work with the provinces and territories, particularly those with high concentrations of African-Canadian and other racialized people, to develop a consistent data collection strategy. The federal government also needs to work with community groups to collect this data directly from the communities themselves.
Second, the federal government must also introduce a reinvigorated and robust national action plan against racism, updated to deal with the current realities of systemic racism in Canada—for example, the rise of Islamophobia. The new action plan should be the result of extensive consultations with all stakeholder groups and with an eye to intersectionality and the different ways in which systemic racism affects different racial groups. It should specifically acknowledge anti-black racism in Canada and provide effective ways by which to address anti-black racism.
Third, the federal government must also recognize that intergenerational poverty, homelessness, precarious housing, unemployment, and precarious employment are also a result of systemic racism and discrimination. It must work toward mandatory employment equity. In its poverty reduction strategy, the government has failed to engage a racial equity lens in order to examine the impact of race on housing, homelessness, and poverty, and fails to mention race in any substantive way. It is also necessary when dealing with these issues to engage the way in which precarious immigration status intersects with race.
In terms of other key recommendations for addressing systemic racism, particularly in regard to its impact on the African-Canadian community, I would urge the committee to review our submissions to the UN for CERD, the recommendations of the CERD committee, and the working group's recommendations for Canada.
In conclusion, the ACLC fully endorses this motion and recognizes its importance in Canadian society today as a means by which to take concrete action toward eradicating systemic racism and Islamophobia in Canada.
On behalf of our members, thank you, Madam Chair and members of the committee, for giving our voices the opportunity to be heard today.
The Canadian Council of Imams was established in 1990 and is the only Canadian body that represents imams from across the country.
Canadian Muslims are not new to Canada. The first Muslim child on record to be born in this land was born in 1854, over a decade before Confederation. His name was James Love Jr., and he was born to James Love and Agnes Love.
It was another 84 years before Canada's first mosque opened in 1938. The building of the Al Rashid mosque in Edmonton was spearheaded by women, who approached then Mayor John Fry for land. They raised the $5,000 needed to establish the mosque from Muslim, Christian, and Jewish donors.
Today, like many other Canadians, the overwhelming majority of Canadian Muslims are grateful for the safety, prosperity, and opportunities offered by our country that enable them to study, work, worship, raise their families, and enjoy all that our country has to offer while giving back in a relatively safe and equitable environment. However, we see signs of trouble on the horizon.
As has been well established in the presence of this committee, hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise. The heartbreaking attack at the Islamic cultural centre in Quebec City on January 29 of this year was the single most horrific mass killing at a place of worship in Canadian history. Aboriginal, black, Jewish, and Sikh communities, among others, also continue to be targeted in Canada.
It would be naive at best to sit back and say that the government has no role to play in enhancing the safety, security, and inclusion of minorities in Canadian society. After all, democracy brings with it the responsibility to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority.
The right to worship and practise one's faith freely and openly as one sees fit, without infringing upon the rights of others, is a fundamental right, yet this fundamental right of Canadian Muslims is being eroded by those who seek to instill fear within the Canadian Muslim community through attacks and intimidation tactics. This fear negatively impacts Canadian Muslim women and children in particular.
As imams, we often hear about cases of Canadian Muslim women being verbally harassed and in some cases physically attacked while going about their business. Such attacks leave deep psychological scars on the victims and on the broader Muslim community, leaving many women afraid to go out alone.
Children are not only bullied by their peers in schools. As we saw in the Peel region in Ontario, Muslim children were intimidated by protesters who were targeting schools. These children were singled out simply because they had exercised their fundamental right to attend Friday prayer services at school. Friday is the holiest day of the week for Muslims, and prayer services are held in the early afternoon.
Unlike Jews and Christians, Muslims do not have their holy day off. Therefore, prayers need to be held at school during lunch hours to accommodate students who believe attendance at Friday prayers is mandatory for them as observing Muslims. Making them choose between praying and studying would be a form of systemic discrimination.
In our view, the growing climate of fear is fuelled by a few factors.
First, violent radicals who claim to speak in the name of Islam—and against whom we continue to fight ideologically and through co-operation with authorities—have been given legitimacy by some political leaders, authorities, and the media through giving them the attention they crave and by accepting their misrepresentation of Islamic teachings as being true.
Terrorists use publicity to instill fear as a means of furthering their agendas. Deprive them of publicity, and you suck the oxygen out of their narrative. In practical terms, this means reducing the coverage of terrorism trials and radical propaganda, such as videos. The foiling of terror plots, including the one that was foiled after a tip from a Canadian imam, should be announced and treated by authorities in the same way as other criminal activity. Doing otherwise feeds the violent radical ego and narrative.
Second, those who harbour hatred against Islam and Muslims, or against certain subsects within Islam, often use as examples actions by Muslims in other parts of the world—which many times are misrepresented—as a reason for fearing Canadian Muslims. Let us be clear: we are Canadians. We have encouraged and will continue to encourage the practice of Islam in Canada in a manner that does not contravene Canadian law and that is protected by the fundamental charter freedoms of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, and expression.
When speaking about Muslims or any other group in Canada, it is crucial that we base our discussions on the current realities as lived in Canada, because Canada is unique and the Canadian Muslim experience is unique. It must not be conflated with the realities of Muslims elsewhere in the world.
Haters generally prey upon those who are generally ignorant, spreading fear and mistrust, particularly through the Internet, by highlighting isolated incidents or by misrepresenting facts. For example, a tragic family killing in Ottawa last year was determined by authorities to be a case of family violence involving clear evidence of mental health issues. It was not an honour killing, yet a radical Canadian media outlet not only promoted a conspiracy that the crime was an honour killing, which is un-Islamic, but even went so far as to visit the Islamic school where one of the victims once taught, and did so while children were present; intimidated the staff for supposedly covering up an honour killing; filmed outside the school; and then posted the video on its website. Parents are now afraid that a follower of this website, who believes this false narrative of an honour killing cover-up, could end up attacking this school and their children, yet everyone appears to be helpless in stopping this type of fake news, which can have very real consequences.
Racist and bigoted thoughts cannot be legislated, but actions can be. We believe that all Canadians, in particular community leaders and our elected leaders, have a moral duty to stem the rise of hate in Canada, which is clearly having a really negative impact on the lives of minority Canadians. Therefore we propose six concrete steps that the government and our elected leaders can take to address the rise of hate in Canada.
First, to further protect religious property, consider expanding subsection 430(4.1) of the Criminal Code to include religious schools, and also remove the specific element to make the offence a general offence. A specific intent imposes an additional burden on the prosecutor to prove, and gives the perpetrator one more defence.
Second, consider expanding section 319 to characterize all physical attacks against religious symbols in public places, including those worn by individuals, such as the hijab, turban, kippah, and cross, as public incitement of hatred or wilful promotion of hatred.
Third, increase funding for law enforcement and security agencies to investigate hate speech on the Internet, to enforce existing laws, and to gather intelligence on, investigate, and prosecute radical individuals and groups who believe in terrorizing Canadian minorities through criminal acts with the same vigour and allocation of resources as has been done so far against individuals and groups who believe in terrorizing Canadians indiscriminately through criminal acts.
Fourth, consider creating safe zones outside all schools when children are present so that protestors are required to give safe, intimidation-free passage to children to and from school.
Fifth, model the promotion of understanding and diversity—not necessarily agreement—in all federal agencies and the public service by mandating, on a regular basis, sessions featuring interaction with members of diverse and minority groups for all management-level and front-line employees.
Sixth, run regular national public awareness campaigns to instill a sense of national pride in Canadian diversity and to highlight the positive contributions of Canadians of all types.
I'm sure we can all agree that our country is a great blessing that we want to continue to build and improve. For that, we must start with us as individuals, and then as communities, and as a nation.
May God keep our country and its citizens safe. May God make it safer and more welcoming for all.