Madam Chair and honourable members, my name is Serah Gazali. Thank you all for your invitation.
This September, 53 people—a diverse group of community members, including first nations, youth, settlement employees, researchers, self-identified Muslims, and Chinese seniors—gathered at Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House in Vancouver. Those attending shared their experiences of systemic racism and religious discrimination. Through a thoughtful and engaged dialogue emerged the recommendations we will present to this committee today.
The dialogue was initiated by the office of Jenny Kwan in response to motion M-103. Today Narges Samimi and I will speak on behalf of Frog Hollow and those who attended the community dialogue. We speak as participants in this dialogue, as members of minority communities, and as individuals whose lives have been impacted by racism. We also speak as Canadians who wish to see a more equitable and stronger economic life for each person living in this country.
The dialogue generated more than 20 recommendations clustered around five key areas. The first area requires government support for training and education to increase intercultural understanding. We need a national strategy to enhance cultural, racial, and religious tolerance and awareness. Anti-racism and anti-oppression training should be required across all sectors of government, especially for judges, lawyers, and law enforcement officials.
Given the pivotal role education plays in socializing children and young adults, the federal government should collaborate with the provinces to ensure that this training is mandatory for all teachers, including college and university professors. The federal government should also provide funding for provinces and territories to revise school curricula and include education on Canada's colonial history, the value of diversity, and cultural inclusivity.
In the second area, we recommend establishing programs to facilitate integration and reduce segregation. This means funding local non-profit organizations and government agencies that are working on a range of anti-discrimination initiatives, especially groups combatting racism and Islamophobia. In addition, the federal government should establish a mechanism by which every recipient of federal funding, regardless of the purpose of that funding, measures and reports back on how their work with the federal funds advances intercultural understanding and combats systemic discrimination.
A third area of consideration is the improvement of labour market access to boost national economic achievement. This set of recommendations speaks to strengthening the Canadian economy by effectively utilizing the rich and diverse talent of Canada's multicultural population.
Government should develop a national strategy for labour market integration that acknowledges the economic inequities and systemic barriers experienced by immigrants, visible minorities, and first nations. Government needs to work with the provinces to amend their employment standards acts to ensure that employees can observe religious holidays, prayer times, and traditional dress without fear of employer reprisal.
We need a federal task force to assess the compatibility of education and credentials from outside of Canada, and we need to speed up the creation of more equitable credential pathways for skilled newcomers. Provincial professional registration practices need to be transparent, objective, impartial, and fair. That may mean helping to establish fairness commissioners in each province, like those already in place in Ontario and Manitoba.
The fourth area recommends fostering institutional participation and leadership. We need to provide support for programs to connect and to promote the participation of first nations and other minorities in paid and unpaid leadership positions. Minorities, especially women of colour, need focused support to overcome systemic barriers and to become leaders and role models across all levels of government and broader society.
The last area includes a suggestion for strengthening the legal response to discrimination. Governments should strengthen laws against hate speech and crimes by providing a much more inclusive and clear definition of hate crime and Islamophobia. We also recommend providing new funding for accessible support and programs for individuals who have experienced the harmful impacts of race- and religious-based forms of discrimination. In addition to preventing or minimizing intergenerational harms, these programs should aim to promote personal empowerment and integration through civic engagement.
You made a number of recommendations. Some of them have been dealt with, and I appreciate those. There is one that I have to say I take issue with, and I'm going to explain why. I'm saying it not as a criticism of you; I'm saying it as a way of putting the issue before the members before this committee.
Your recommendation number 4 on page 18 proposes to:
|Mandate the removal of symbols that celebrate violence, genocide, and colonialism. This recommendation may include changing the names of educational institutions (e.g. schools named in memory of Sir John A. Mcdonald) and streets (e.g. Colonization Road), as well as restoring Indigenous names for cities and regions.
I think on the whole there's lots of merit to that, but I just want to stop and pull Sir John A.'s name out of that.
He, of course, was our first prime minister. If we take the approach that Sir John A. Macdonald is someone who is unfit to be celebrated and that anything named after him should have its name changed, then we also, I think, have to—and this would be presumably over his record vis-à-vis aboriginal relations—take away anything named after Sir Wilfrid Laurier, our second major prime minister, who took away the vote from aboriginal people after Sir John A. had given it to them. We'd have to rename anything named after Sir Robert Borden, our third long-serving prime minister, who after all, during World War I, locked up Ukrainian civilians; Mackenzie King, our longest-serving prime minister, who locked up Japanese-Canadians during World War II; and Louis St. Laurent, who served in the forties and fifties and who kept aboriginals from voting until John Diefenbaker finally gave them that right in 1960. As well, presumably Mr. Diefenbaker and Mr. Pearson, who were our prime ministers in the sixties, are morally responsible for the sixties scoop of young aboriginal people from their parents.
The point I'm making here is that I think we need some kind of perspective when we're doing these things that distinguishes between these acts—which are not excusable—and the people who did them, who were simply not monsters and who were not unfit to be honoured in other aspects. I just wanted to get that on the record. You provided me with the opportunity. This issue has come up before.
That said, there may well be merit to doing other things, such as reviewing some of the other names that are problematic.
I don't know if I used up my time.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Honourable members, thank you for the invitation to contribute to this important discussion on behalf of the Manitoba Islamic Association, or MIA.
My name is Idris Elbakri. I am the past president of the MIA. My colleague is Mr. Osaed Khan, the current president of the MIA. We are honoured to be here to present a perspective based on our experience and work as a grassroots community organization. We thank the committee for listening to the many community voices throughout the country, as it is a very important part of this process.
There are approximately 20,000 Muslims in Manitoba. The majority live in Winnipeg. We have communities in Brandon, Thompson, Winkler, and Altona.
Our organization, the MIA, was formally founded in 1969. The MIA is a grassroots organization that serves Manitobans, including Muslims, through three mosques and a community centre that is a cultural, recreational, and educational hub in Winnipeg.
In our presentation today, we would like to share with you why we are concerned about racism, discrimination, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and all forms of discrimination. We will share with you how, as a community, we have responded, how we have collaborated with diverse communities, and what more can be done to combat the disturbing trend of increased bigotry.
While I will speak from the perspective of a Canadian Muslim, I do so with the knowledge that indigenous Canadians suffer most from racism, and that racism affects us and hurts us all.
According to Statistics Canada, hate crimes against Muslims have increased by 253% between 2012 and 2015. In 2015, the most targeted racial group was the black community. That same year, the most targeted group was the Jewish community. From 2014 to 2015, there was an 86% increase in hate crimes targeting gay and lesbian Canadians.
We will share with you a few incidents that have occurred in our communities.
Imagine coming home on New Year's Eve to find a gift box at your doorstep. In it is a rock painted with the words “Die, Jew”.
Imagine being a newcomer family just starting the long path towards settlement and integration, still learning the language, only to find graffiti on your fence telling you, “Go back to your country”.
Imagine taking a leisurely stroll in a public park and finding graffiti proclaiming “White Power” or lamenting “The lost white civilization”.
Imagine your mosque employee going through the day's mail only to find that someone mailed you a strip of bacon to express their disdain for your faith and your community.
When we as a community sought a minor rezoning permit, we were met with virulent comments online, such as “We need to put our foot down and stop appeasing to this Islam”.
In the spring of this year, the photo of a Muslim family from Manitoba was featured as part of a promotional campaign for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Online trolls posted comments like these, and I quote: “This is an oxymoron as the people pictured in this ad do not believe in equal human rights”; “Muslims funded this place through the UN, Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas. Canada is lost. Canada needs to boot Islam out before it is too late”; and “They are illegally invading our country and that is who you put as your cover”.
We are concerned. We know that there will always be racism; however, what I have just shared with you is a sampling of incidents that have occurred in the past two years only. We are experiencing a palpable increase in incidents that raise serious concerns in our communities, whether they be Muslim, Jewish, people of colour, or others.
We are also concerned about those fringe racists who mostly spread their message online or spray graffiti under the cover of night. We are worried that they are going to attempt to claim public space and normalize their message as part of our nation's discourse. Recent attempts by the so-called Worldwide Coalition Against Islam to hold several rallies are an example of that.
Recent polls indicate that Canadians far and wide are also concerned. In March 2017, an Angus Reid poll showed that 66% of Canadians believed that the Quebec City shooting was a sign of deeper problems. In the same poll, 61% of Canadians believed that Canadian Muslims face a lot of discrimination in their daily lives. Roughly 40% of Canadians said, “Lots of people I know are distrustful of Canadian Muslims.” A provincial breakdown of these results is also available.
Earlier last month, a poll by Think for Actions found that 72% of Canadians believe there is an increasing climate of hatred and fear towards Muslims in Canada and that it will get worse.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I greet you with this Islamic greeting: [Witness speaks in Arabic]. May peace, mercy, and the blessings of God be upon you all.
My name is Mansoor Pirzada. I'm a dermatologist by profession, currently practising in St. John's. I'm the president of MANAL, the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. We are a charitable non-profit organization managed by volunteers who have their own professional careers. We are engaged in religious, educational, and outreach activities, as well as close partnerships with other faith groups. Our mission is to contribute to the well-being of our members, the larger community of our province, and our fellow Canadians.
The Muslim population in Newfoundland and Labrador is over 2,000. We had a recent boost with the arrival of around 200 Syrian refugees. Madam Chair, probably to the surprise of many, the experience of Muslims living in our province has historically been more positive than negative. The credit is shared among various stakeholders, and I would like to begin with the greatest one, and that is the people of our province.
Our weather in Newfoundland and Labrador can be tough, but we are blessed with a mild human climate. Our people are famous for their hospitality, kindness, and welcoming attitude. Their great human qualities are best documented through the most recent Broadway musical Come from Away. In a nutshell, it is the story of a small community that welcomed passengers on 9/11 flights diverted to rural Newfoundland and Labrador. What is not documented is how the same people treated their Muslim friends and neighbours in the aftermath of this tragedy. With their great wisdom, they realized that Muslims were the indirect victims.
They always supported us whenever the beautiful name and the teachings of our religion were hijacked as a pretext for cruel atrocities. In the aftermath of the tragic incident in Quebec City, our political and religious leaders came together to attend our Friday service to demonstrate their solidarity. While we were praying inside, over 1,500 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians from all walks of life formed a symbolic, yet very powerful, human shield around our mosque.
Madam Chair, the second stakeholder to be credited for our unique positive experience is our own Muslim community. We truly consider our province as our homeland. We embrace and practise the same great human qualities as our fellow Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Our Muslim community is diverse, yet very inclusive. We contribute to the prosperity of our province, not only as hard-working, tax-paying, and law-abiding citizens, but as culturally interesting and friendly neighbours.
Muslim international students and faculty members bring in world-class educational and research experience. Muslim professionals work in various sectors, ranging from health to the oil and gas industry. Muslim entrepreneurs run small and large businesses. Our children and youth boost the aging demographic of our province. Even our mosque is unique in Atlantic Canada, because it is the only one that was built as a mosque right from scratch. This is the only mosque in North America that was built by the collective efforts of the followers of two major sects of Islam, Sunnis and Shias. As of today, this is the only mosque in North America where Sunnis and Shias pray together. Madam Chair, this is our example and message of inclusiveness to all Canadians and the world.
The third stakeholder feeding into our mild human climate is the unique nature of leadership in our province. Historically, our political and religious leaders have always been constructive. They have helped in promoting a safe and welcoming environment for the residents, including Muslims. While visible minorities in parts of the country have been victims of hate crimes, peace and tranquillity prevail in our province.
Madam Chair, I also would like to acknowledge the positive role of our media. Most recently, on May 25, CBC's Here and Now played a special edition on Islam from our local mosque. The program was greatly appreciated by viewers for its educational nature. I recall one social media commentator who wrote that the program positively changed his previously held negative perception about Muslims.
Madam Chair, haters exist everywhere, and even our province is not completely immune to hatred. So far our experience of Islamophobia in our province has been limited to hate speech in virtual platforms, as well as indirect and subtle interventions in public spaces.
However, more recently we've started observing a worrying change. In a community consultation we attended a few weeks ago, representatives of our provincial human rights commission pointed out that the number of Islamophobia-related complaints they receive has recently increased. What is equally alarming is that these complaints are now more about everyday encounters in public spaces, such as shopping malls, grocery stores, and so on.
More recently, during the Thanksgiving holiday, our community woke up to the news of lslamophobic posters all over the Memorial University campus. The trend is now considered alarming enough to warrant addressing Islamophobia consultations among community and university stakeholders. Their priority is to find ways to increase institutional capacities of service providers to address the Islamophobia in our province.
Although our experience has historically been positive, we are still worried about the future. Our main question is, for how long will our unique positive experience continue? Will it prevail as a role model for the rest of Canada, or are we going to lose it to the pervasiveness of hatred?
Madam Chair, I know there is ongoing debate about the exclusive use of Islamophobia in motion M-103, and some lack of consensus about its merit, meaning, and implications. I don't want to waste our time by reproducing this debate. However, I must say that the notion of Islamophobia has a strong conceptual merit in capturing the complexity of the problem we are dealing with, and it offers significant insight into the root cause. It reminds us that Muslims experience racism and discrimination because of their religious affiliation with Islam. It captures the mutually reinforcing processes of demonizing Islam and dehumanizing Muslims. It exposes that it is due to their affiliation with Islam that Muslims are categorically perceived as one single race that is inferior, uncivilized, and deserving of hostile treatment. This is why non-Muslims sometimes end up being targeted when they are perceived as Muslims.
Our national unemployment statistics and research data comparing our poverty rates with other developed countries suggest that Islamophobia is not a new phenomenon in Canada. For instance, according to 2001 Statistics Canada data, Muslims in Canada have the highest unemployment rate by religious group. Similarly, in 2007 Canada had the largest gap between Muslim and non-Muslim poverty rates in comparison to the U.S., France, Germany, Spain, and Britain.
Therefore, we have every reason to argue that Islamophobia really stands out in our age as one of the most pervasive manifestations of racial and religious discrimination. This is why it deserves specific acknowledgement. Moreover, it is in the context of the Quebec city tragedy that Muslim Canadians are entitled to expect your committee to unanimously acknowledge and thoroughly address Islamophobia.
Madam Chair, the elephant is already in our Canadian store. It has already caused irrevocable damage, not only to Canadian Muslims but to all Canadians who are collectively woven into the beautiful fabric of our society. Now is not the time to play around words and politics. It is time to be united to minimize and ultimately eliminate this serious threat.
As a community leader, I am concerned with the rise in lslamophobic incidents in our province and their negative impact on Muslim women and youth especially. I consider women and youth as the future of the country. As Canadians, we cannot and shall not discriminate against them. Otherwise, we would be defying not only our own core Canadian values but also Canada's demographic and economic interests.
If we want to continue to move forward on the path of past economic and social success, we must tap the unrealized human talent and skill sets that reside in our visible minorities. We must together work as Canadians to eliminate this cancer of systemic racism, religious discrimination, and Islamophobia once and for all. It is only then that we can all call ourselves Canadians without any qualifier of race, colour, language, or religion.
Our recommendations are as follows. I will shorten them a bit. Number one is creating a national registry. The second is to introduce awareness and training programs. Third, develop and introduce programs to support victims of Islamophobia and protect vulnerable ones. Fourth is to introduce and implement appropriate tools that would promote equity and inclusion and eliminate racial and religious barriers to employment. In that context we need to use an equity lens to undertake diversity and equity analysis in our budget preparation.
We hope that the work of the honourable committee members will lead to the development of appropriate strategy to support equity, justice, tolerance, and inclusion in our beloved country. Canadian Muslims are ready to present themselves as agents of positive change. They only need to be reassured about their safety as well as their inherent and acquired dignity in Canadian society.
Thank you. God bless Canada. Long live Canada.
Going back to the recommendations that Mr. Pirzada mentioned in his speech, I would like to emphasize four important points.
First of all, we need qualitative and quantitative data to find out what kinds of problems we are dealing with, and there are barriers that prevent the collection of such data. For instance, people don't know their rights, and they need to be educated. Sometimes they feel shy or they fear reporting the incidents. Reporting should be facilitated and encouraged, and also service providers who are dealing with such complaints should be properly educated constantly so that they know how to deal with them.
I remember the testimony of another witness. In her childhood, she experienced with her family some Islamophobic incidents, and they decided to report them, but the police forces said it was just a funny prank, so they should just take it easy and let it go.
There are so many things that should be done on many fronts, especially education and professional training of service providers in various sectors, such as the media, the school education system, health services, social work, and law enforcement.
I think a national strategy would be a welcome development. It would be a step in the right direction.
In our view it should encompass the following components: first, it should emphasize education of young children. It's remarkable that as an immigrant, I grew up in a much more homogeneous society, but my children today go to public school, to a French immersion program here in Winnipeg, and they have friends from all different walks of life. I think it's important that in schools we work with young children to instill the values of diversity and inclusiveness from an early age.
It's also important to encourage communities to share good practices. Again, I would like to come back to the point that a lot of good work is already happening at the grassroots level, but we need a platform for that to be shared and celebrated. That will empower those who may not have had those experiences yet to try to engage as well with their own communities.
The second point made by our colleagues from Newfoundland is that we have to involve the grassroots communities and consult with them, because a lot of the work is being done by them.
The other aspect that has come out of your committee's deliberation is Islamophobia. What is the definition, what is the extent of it, and so on? I think there need to be grants to academic experts in universities to study this issue further, whether it's Islamophobia or racism and discrimination in general, to inform our policy-making with scholarly research that has withstood the test of peer review and so on.