Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the committee for inviting the Armenian National Committee of Canada to provide evidence to you today.
My name is Shahen Mirakian, and I am president of the Armenian National Committee of Canada. I apologize for not being able to join you in person. The executive director of the Armenian National Committee of Canada, Mr. Sevag Belian, is based in Ottawa, and he is present in the committee room today.
I have had the opportunity to review the evidence from previous sessions, and I have followed the reports in the media as well. The committee has already had the opportunity to hear from many presenters on a variety of concerns having to do with today's topic, and particularly with reference to Islamophobia. Many presenters have made recommendations concerning how to better address these issues. However, we believe that one topic that has not been covered sufficiently is the role that advocacy organizations can play in advancing respect and understanding amongst Canadians.
Generally, advocacy groups such as the Armenian National Committee of Canada are seen as advancing a particular point of view to the exclusion of other points of view. They are regarded as having a narrow and parochial interest. We often hear about how government should not be captured by special interests, and advocacy organizations are often portrayed as the ultimate special interest groups.
We believe that this view is misguided and ignores the important role that organizations like the Armenian National Committee of Canada play in advancing broader interests. I am going to begin with two examples, and then move from these specific cases to a more general thesis.
In December 1998, Soviet Armenia, as it was then, was struck by a devastating earthquake that killed tens of thousands, injured countless others, and left a significant portion of the population homeless and without the necessities of life. The Armenian Canadian community immediately launched into action to collect funds, medical supplies, and other essential items to aid the population. Armenian Canadian organizations approached Canadian elected officials and public servants to see how all levels of Canadian government could assist in the effort. Armenian Canadian organizations reached out to private enterprise to help with things like setting up phone lines to collect donations—this was before the Internet—and to assist with the logistics involved in transporting goods to the then-Soviet Union. Communication channels were opened with the embassy and local consular offices of the USSR and with Soviet and Armenian government officials.
This effort was obviously directed to a particular interest important to the Armenian Canadian community. However, it had a positive impact on all Canadians because it created the basic framework that could be used in other disasters worldwide. Governments, private enterprise, the media, and aid organizations learned important lessons about coordinating their efforts and how to improve relief efforts by involving Canadians with ties to the affected region. Armenian advocacy on these issues meant that, when other communities were affected by similar tragedies, Canada was prepared to respond more quickly and more effectively. The payoff from this experience continues to be felt even today.
More recently, the Armenian Canadian community was deeply involved in the effort to resettle refugees from the conflict in Syria. The Armenian Canadian community throughout Canada, working through a variety of community organizations, brought over 4,000 privately sponsored and blended-visa Syrian refugees to Canada. This massive effort required constant engagement with the Canadian government, provincial governments, municipalities, school boards, hospitals, settlement organizations, private sponsorship groups, and countless community organizations.
Much of this work began well before the Canadian government's push in mid-December 2015, so the Armenian Canadian community had a unique insight into how to do the enormous work that had to be done by other groups when the large waves of government-sponsored refugees began to arrive. Many of the government-sponsored refugees benefited immensely, because Armenian Canadian organizations had already identified the major issues involved in resettlement and worked with our partners to resolve them.
However, the Armenian Canadian community did not do this alone. If we were able to see further, it was because we stood on the shoulders of giants who paved the way before us, the Vietnamese Canadian community, the Hungarian Canadian community, the Jewish community, the Somali Canadian community, and others had already been through similar experiences, and their efforts had resulted in structures that were already in place, which assisted us in our efforts.
The advocacy and work of many Canadian faith communities, including the Catholic Church, the United Church, the Anglican Church, the Mennonites, Islamic groups, Sikh groups, and others with refugees also provided useful guidance on how to work.
We can already see how the Syrian experience is guiding efforts to resettle the Yazidis in Canada today.
These are but two examples. The work of Chinese Canadian groups on removing the discriminatory head tax against people of Asian descent, the work of Japanese Canadian and Ukrainian Canadian organizations in seeking redress for instances of internment during the Second and First World Wars, respectively, and the work of Jewish groups to track hate crimes and combat discrimination all have positive impacts measured well beyond the immediate subject of their advocacy or their own particular community.
The work of numerous community organizations helped to make the Canadian Museum of Human Rights a reality, for instance. Similarly, Islamic organizations and advocacy groups from various cultures that follow Islam are already playing a valuable role in combatting Islamophobia and, in turn, broader instances of systemic religious discrimination.
Obviously, advocacy groups are not the sole element in combatting systemic racism and religious discrimination, but they can and should play a role. When these groups campaign to open doors, those doors are opened for everyone. We all benefit from the efforts of organizations to address particular instances of systemic discrimination because we become better at identifying what laws, actions, or policies are discriminatory, and we learn how to work with the targeted groups to address these issues.
To assist in this effort, the Armenian National Committee of Canada would like to make two recommendations.
First, we call upon members of Parliament to act as a resource for advocacy groups.
One of the most positive things that can be done is to introduce various communities to one another and bring them together to discuss common goals. If a member of Parliament has been approached by two advocacy groups who are pursuing the same objective, introducing these two groups to one another can create new connections that create wider ties between the communities they represent and create better integration. Open dialogue between communities can be fostered by members of Parliament, who are often best positioned to recognize areas of common interest. Additionally, members of Parliament can help organizations addressing issues of systemic racism and religious discrimination meet people from communities who have already done considerable work on addressing these issues, and learn the best way to affect positive change.
Second, we call upon the government to redirect some of its funding from promoting intercultural dialogue to, instead, work on community building among faith and cultural communities.
Grants that require co-operation among communities will almost always accrue to the best-organized communities that already have ties with other communities and are able to lever those connections. In this way, the better off continue to be better off. If some of the funding were directed at community organizations that were smaller and less well-established, these communities could develop the proper structures to be better engaged in intercultural dialogue and to participate more fully in Canadian society. Participation by more groups will create more opportunities to identify and address systemic racism and religious discrimination.
We understand fully that these recommendations will not entirely address Islamophobia or systemic racism and religious discrimination, but we believe that they are important initial steps in creating structures in Canada that can effectively tackle this issue.
Thank you very much.
Madam Chair and honourable members of the committee, my name is Bob Kuhn. I'm privileged to serve as the president of Trinity Western University. I appreciate the invitation to address this committee. I've submitted a short written brief as well.
This is a very important issue, and it is important to Trinity Western, which is the largest faith-based university in Canada. It has a student population of 4,000 or more, and it represents 55 years of serving a very important function in the fabric of Canadian higher education.
Trinity Western offers a wide range of undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees in the liberal arts, sciences, and professional schools in nursing, education, clinical psychology, human kinetics, business, and others. TWU also provide a unique program of leadership training at the Laurentian leadership centre in Ottawa. You may have interacted with TWU interns in the offices of MPs or elsewhere on Parliament Hill. As well, TWU, in partnership with well-known Chinese universities, offers an international master of business degree in Tianjin, Beijing, and Shanghai.
In terms of research, Trinity Western professionals hold three Canada research chairs, and numerous research grants from NSERC, CIHR, and SSHRC. The university also owns and maintains environmental study areas, with properties totalling approximately 150 acres.
Not to leave our athletes out, over the past 15 years, Trinity Western teams have won 11 national and 23 Canada-west championships, often against universities 10 times their size.
In terms of objective party evaluation, Trinity Western has scored among the very highest ratings in the country in student satisfaction, and they have achieved an A+ grade in quality of education for seven years running. No other Canadian university has done so.
Trinity Western University is not just an excellent academic institution with winning sports teams. It's a Christian university, a community that cares deeply about all its diverse students, who in turn care deeply about the needs of others. Approximately 65% of the student body participates each year in student leadership, international service trips, community service, or outreach, working with prison populations, sex trade workers, first nations groups, Habitat for Humanity, and others.
You would think a university with such a remarkable history, extraordinary nationally and internationally recognized faculty, and exceptional students with 24,000-plus alumni would not be subjected to exclusion and rejection because of its traditional biblical values, especially when Trinity is mandated by the Trinity Western University Act to provide a university education “with an underlying philosophy and viewpoint that is Christian.”
Despite its success and despite the fact that it provides its education and community service without government subsidy, it has consistently been the subject of religious discrimination. In my brief I discuss several; let me discuss two here.
Some of you may be aware of the decisions made by three provincial law societies that rejected the ability of graduates from Trinity Western's proposed law school to enter the practice of law in those provinces. This was despite approval given by the national Federation of Law Societies and the minister of higher education in British Columbia, and it was despite the fact that it is universally acknowledged that TWU law school graduates would have been fully qualified.
The sole reason for their rejection is that Trinity Western University, as a Christian university and consistent with the views of most other world religions, subscribes to the traditional definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. Of course, that position is referenced in the Civil Marriage Act of 2005, which says, “it is not against the public interest to hold and publicly express diverse views on marriage”. It appears that some government, quasi-government, and other organizations and corporate entities prefer to ignore the important statement of principle.
At the end of November, these issues before the courts will again be before the Supreme Court of Canada, despite the fact that this court, facing similar facts relating to the approval of Trinity's school of education, ruled in favour of Trinity in 2001. In that decision they made a number of judicial statements relevant to motion 103. The first statement reads as follows:
||The diversity of Canadian society is partly reflected in the multiple religious organizations that mark the societal landscape and this diversity of views should be respected.
Here is another quote:
||[TWU students'] freedom of religion is not accommodated if the consequence of its exercise is the denial of the right of full participation in society.
I have one final quote:
||For better or for worse, tolerance of divergent beliefs is a hallmark of a democratic society.
Now if the powerful law societies can discriminate against students graduating from Trinity Western, then what is to stop other organizations from discriminating against its 24,000-plus alumni and 300-plus faculty members? In fact, this is exactly what has happened.
There are examples of them in the brief. Again, I will focus on one. In the last few months, a Trinity Western faculty member applied for a position at a public university. The public university faculty union executive advised their fellow faculty members to boycott the Trinity Western applicant's interview solely because the applicant was from Trinity. It is alarming that the well-established concept of accommodation is not referenced when authorities such as this or other organizations engage in rapid and reckless response to shifting social values. That is, governments, organizations, and individuals create and enforce a hierarchy of discrimination without a means of balancing potential conflicting interests. If the concept of accommodation is eliminated entirely, it is done in favour of an immutable, pre-established hierarchy. In essence, we are told that in the name of diversity, you are not welcome. In the name of tolerance, we will not tolerate your religious freedom. You must conform to society's secular moral judgments to participate at the table of pluralism.
This committee has asked for constructive suggestions for implementation by the federal government that would reduce or eliminate systemic racism and religious discrimination. Let me make three.
This is recommendation number one. Inevitably, if we are to retain the sought-after, balanced, multicultural, multireligious mosaic, religious discrimination must continue to be the subject of careful study, civil discourse, and creativity in resolution of conflict. It is my submission that the first step is to promote, encourage, and engage in meaningful opportunities to pursue dialogue, relationships, and educated understanding. The government can and should lead by example. I believe it would be prudent and positive to ensure consultation with religious organizations in order to understand the perspective of religious people in Canada. In this respect, the duty to consult would be appropriate. This would go some distance to bridging the increasing divide between the secular and religious communities. It is when people in positions of authority or power do not listen to, consult with, or show respect for those who hold strong religious views that religious discrimination arises.
The second recommendation is, when considering the impact of decisions on religious minorities, the concept of accommodation should be employed. If our country is to build a meaningful and genuine pluralism, its leadership must be committed to accommodation of religious differences, rather than simply adopting and enforcing secular majority opinions.
The third recommendation is that the appointment of an ombudsperson be considered. Assisting in the resolution of differences and disputes between governments, authorities, religious institutions, and individuals, it would provide an opportunity for greater understanding, dialogue, and mediation, and the advent of creative resolution alternatives.
In conclusion, Trinity Western and its staff, students, and faculty experience significant financial, emotional, and systemic discrimination. It is getting worse, and it should not be.
Honourable members of the committee, this is not the Canada that has historically opened its arms to welcome a great variety of people of faith. This is not the Canada that prides itself on being a nation of peace—a country where men and women of deep religious convictions are not forced to forgo their faith as a condition of full citizenship. We are the Canada that is offering safe harbour to families fleeing religious persecution—a compassionate country that does not dictate conformity but rather seeks community in our diversity.
Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, for holding this important hearing and thank you for inviting me. I can't tell you enough how important this issue is to me. For those of us south of your border, America has been wrestling with many of these same issues, since 9/11, as your country has.
I'm founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. As you mentioned, my name is Zuhdi Jasser. I'm also the son of Syrian immigrants. My family escaped the Baath regime in Syria in the mid-sixties. I still have most of my family in Syria, so I'm greatly aware of the plight of refugees and our family.
What I'm going to reference today in the little time I have—we submitted my full comments for your record and I ask you to accept those—are the unintended consequences of M-103. It may be well intended to prevent bigotry against Muslims, but since it's couched in the term “Islamophobia”, since it really looks at Muslims as a model, I think it would cause more harm than good. I'm going to walk you through what I see as some of its harms and what I think would be a better approach to the issues that were intended to be raised in M-103.
As a devout Muslim and an American Muslim who loves my faith and loves my country, I must tell you that any emphasis on Islamophobia, as it's called, is profoundly flawed and will continue our nations down the slippery slope of catering to Islamist separatism. I'm here to tell you that simply even using that term Islamophobia, and getting the government into the business of monitoring any form of speech, will end up paradoxically tightening societal division. We must not coddle our Muslim community, which will only further separate Muslims out. We must treat them as any other minority, as any other grievance group and a group that needs protection of its civil rights, but trying to suppress what can be painful speech about Islam at society's fringes will actually paradoxically feed the unintended consequence of fomenting non-Muslim fears of Islam.
Citizens who cannot have their real fears heard and their speech exercised will be stifled from the public sector and pushed underground, resentment that will only foment and actually exacerbate the very problem and one of the claims we want to solve.
Let me tell you briefly about our organization. We were founded in the wake of 9/11 to separate mosque and state. We believe the only way to defeat the root cause of radical Islam is to defeat the ideology, non-violent ideology, of political Islam or Islamic state identity movements. We also helped found the Muslim reform movement that was founded in December of 2015 and we have members across the U.S., Canada, and Europe, including Raheel Raza who, I believe, has spoken to your committee before me.
We are reformists, and I want to emphasize this movement, because much of what we say on behalf of liberal rights, liberal ideas, women's rights, minority rights, within Muslims is often identified as blasphemy by Islamic regimes. It is identified as heretical by mosques in the west, and identified as “Islamophobic” by mosques and leaders in the west, including many allies of the author of M-103. I would tell you that Islamophobia is a weapon used by theocrats to prevent free speech and to prevent critical thinking and modernization of the very ideas that create the underbelly of radical Islam, if you will.
By having a resolution and having a sentiment put forth that focuses on Islamophobia rather than bigotry that surely exists against minorities—and I'm not telling you there isn't bigotry that exists against Muslims, against Jews, against other minorities in all of our society that we need to fight—but by calling it Islamophobia you're basically implying that Islam has rights.
Islam is an idea, like anything else. It does not have rights. It's not a race and it's not part of this systemic racism and discrimination that is being addressed by M-103. I would tell you that the way to approach it is just as you approach anti-Semitism. You don't approach Judeophobia. You approach anti-Semitism because it's the bigotry that exists against practitioners of the Jewish faith that needs to be defeated. Ultimately, bigotry exists against Muslims that needs to be defeated, but we don't do it by making people afraid to push the issues that need reform and need to be addressed, because the primary victims of, even in the west, our government's addressing Islamophobia and calling it that are going to be Muslim.
Where it asks you to address and quell an increasing climate of hate and fear, I believe it will make it worse, preventing the tough conversations we need to have.
Where it asks you to condemn Islamophobia and all forms of racism and religious discrimination and take note of e-411, I will tell you that the language of e-411 smacks of a lot of the language of theocracies from Iran to Saudi Arabia and others, and it will empower tribal leaders and Islamists within our community.
Next, M-103 asks you to undertake a study of how the government should develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism. Certainly the government should be in the business of protecting individual citizens from hate and racism, but it should not be in the business of studying negative and positive sentiments about a particular faith or idea.
Then it asks you to collect data about hate and crime reports. Again, that seems harmless enough, but the focus should not simply be Muslim, but all minorities and all people of faith because when you carve out Muslims, it feeds into separatism.
The harms of M-103 I believe include enabling and enshrining the term “Islamophobia” with the empowerment of all the Islamists domestically and abroad, which marginalizes we reformers who are dedicated to working with both liberals and conservatives in protecting the rights of women and protecting the rights of apostates and blasphemers and others to whom Islamists don't want to give freedom of speech.
M-103 will empower Islamists over Muslim reformers and call us “Islamophobes”. I believe it infantilizes Muslims by disproportionately protecting them more than any other vulnerable minority or community in Canada. I think it will backfire and end up separating Muslims more and feeding into both extremes: those who are too ignorant of the realities within Muslim communities, and those who might be blaming all of Islam for the acts of radicals.
M-103 treats Muslims as a monolith, and I think that is not healthy. Most importantly, I think that this mantra, this language, will feed into harming the progress in the security apparatus.
One of my primary recommendations to you is that you recommend to your government that you shift from CVE, countering violent extremism, to countering violent Islamism because we Muslims can only help you counter the radical ideologies of Wahhabism, Salafi-Jihadism, and all these things that our governments have not wanted to dive into, and shift away from a whack-a-mole program in national security to working against the ideas that radicalize Muslims within our community, such as the horrendous misogyny, the anti-Semitism, and other things preached from the pulpits that radicalize and are the precursors to push Muslims down the pathway of radicalization.
These conversations will not be able to be had if M-103 is implemented, which talks about Islamophobia, because then they will see any discussion of Islamism or political Islam, which is theocratic Islam, which I think every American could understand, as our country was founded on fighting theocracy. I think the west understands this battle. It is just that Islam is a few hundred years behind, being only in our 15th century.
My recommendations to you are, first, to address any bigotry and racism equally across faith and racial communities, without a disproportionate focus on Muslims.
Second, do not use the term “Islamophobia”, please do not use it.
Third, the best way to melt away any bigotry that exists against Muslims is to have us given platforms to counter Jihadism and Salafism so that Canadians can see us leading the battle and how much of an asset we are to countering the threat. That will do so much more to counter the so-called Islamophobia or bigotry to have Canadians see how vital we are.
Fourth is to have a whole-of-government approach—as it calls for—to change the language to “countering violent Islamism” rather than “countering violent extremism”, and to include a broad spectrum when you talk about diversity in our community, to include reformists and those who push against the old mantras that have been fossilized in our thought processes.
My last two points, as my time ends here, are to stop engaging Muslim Brotherhood legacy groups, and to understand the elephant in the room, which is the OIC governments, the Islamic theocracies across the planet that don't want the people of your country to get into the criticism of theocratic Islam.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you. I'm going to respond in English, because I'm more familiar with English than French.
About four years ago, the Armenian National Committee of Canada had an opportunity to reconsider its mandate. We spent a long time thinking about it. Rather than being a group that just advocated for the issues of interest to Armenian Canadians, we actually changed our mandate to say we were a grassroots human rights organization that generally advocated for human rights for all people.
One of the reasons for doing that was that, in a country like Canada, we recognize it's very important that we stand up for all the people who are subject to various forms of discrimination, racism, or had their, as you said, charter rights denied.
Obviously, we have a government, we have courts, we have all kinds of functioning to stand up for charter rights. I may sound a little airy-fairy, or have my head in the clouds, but I certainly think that education and advocacy by individuals and groups is very important to make sure we all recognize our charter rights, and we're all ready to defend them as necessary.
Some of them are fairly clear. I don't think people are going to take away my right to a fair trial or due process without a great outcry, but others are less clear and require more education and more effort to preserve.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you to all the speakers on the panel today.
I'd like to first start by making a clarification. This comes up almost regularly at these committee meetings, that somehow, because the word “Islamophobia” is mentioned in this motion, all we are dealing with is the issue of Islamophobia. Of course, that is not true. The motion explicitly states “Islamophobia and all forms of...discrimination”.
I want to put that on the record, so that we're clear on what we're talking about and what we're studying here.
I'd like to ask my question to Mr. Mirakian. I appreciated your comments, particularly when you indicated there is an expansion of your organization's work in dealing with issues around human rights for all the different groups. To that end, in this country, we used to have a national action plan with respect to dealing with the issue of racism. We don't have that anymore.
I wonder if you can comment on whether or not, for this study, at this point in our history, it is important for us to bring back such a national plan. If so, what are the components that you would say the government ought to focus on as priorities?
I have about three minutes and 40 seconds, maybe two minutes and 40 seconds, so I'll turn to Mr. Jasser.
Mr. Jasser, like Ms. Kwan, I just wanted to clarify a few things that relate to some of your submissions. Then if we can have a comment at the end, that would be terrific.
I'll again confess to you, as somebody who has sat here for the last eight weeks hearing from witnesses, that it strikes me as a little odd to indicate that this motion and the committee study we're now doing somehow prevents freedom of expression and free speech, when we are entertaining witnesses from all aspects of the spectrum who, themselves, are participating in a wide and robust dialogue here and challenging a lot of the notions we are presenting. From our perspective, the study is encouraging speech rather than chilling it.
You mentioned Ms. Raza as somebody who shares your view of the world, so to speak, in terms of somebody you've collaborated with. Ms. Raza is demonstrated to be somebody who continues to participate in certain social media forums and certain platforms, such as the TheRebel.media, an entity that has been eschewed by the leader of the official opposition, yet she maintains that as a platform. That platform has been identified by other witnesses in this committee as a divisive platform.
You said that you struggle with the idea of what is Islamophobic. I will say to you that I personally feel we spent a lot of time on this issue of the terminology as opposed to addressing the root cause of the problem. We've heard from a number of people—and I say this to you as a Muslim member of Parliament—that no one feels that we should be having a problem with questioning the tenets of a faith, the same way I could question the tenets of the Hindu faith. If people—
The sad necessity of our work is that it connects us with many people who are victims of discrimination based on ethnicity and religious affiliations. Our teams in the caseworker and youth support programs regularly encounter stories spanning the spectrum of naked racist abuse to insidious silent discrimination. Allow us to share a couple of examples.
ASPIRE is our caseworker program, which is conceived as a mechanism to break the clients out of the cycle of ongoing dependency on food bank services. The goal is to move them to a point of being self-sufficient, dignified members of the Canadian society. Our food bank-trained caseworkers engage the client one on one, supporting and connecting them to available community and government resources. The focus is education, employment, and community integration. Our caseworkers often act as mentors and as the first level of social support when clients are experiencing incidents of racial discrimination. Our caseworkers are supported by a group of formally trained social workers.
Feedback from this group recounts many incidents of racial discrimination and harassment, especially with Muslim women in public spaces. Muslim women also experience employment discrimination, i.e., hijab-wearing women being told to “take that off” at interviews. Our case files include stories of discrimination, even in the process of seeking accommodation, where landlords appear overly interested in where the person is from, before even allowing them to view the advertised properties.
In our youth support programs, participants report an increased level of physical bullying, exclusion, and cyber-bullying of Muslim youth. It occurs mostly in the school setting. The stories tell us, not only about discrimination suffered at the hands of students, but even at the hands of teachers who put students on the spot and make unfair generalizations.
The Muslim youth we deal with contend both with Islamophobia and anti-immigrant discourse on a regular basis. This is indisputable data confirming that religious discrimination does indeed exist in our society.
The Muslim Food Bank Services serves the socially marginalized who are already burdened with the trauma of war, poverty, illness, incarceration, and so on. Our view is that this marginalization in fact primes our clients for discrimination. We reach this conclusion because the consistent theme in their stories is that the perpetrators invariably view them as “the other”. We deduce from this that racism thrives in settings where social barriers exist and where there is a lack of mutual knowing. Any attempt to systemically root out racism and discrimination, then, is inherently a project about connecting and reconnecting people.
A further insight derived from our work in the context of newcomers is that connecting people is a bilateral responsibility. While we are not advocating forced integration, the connecting process cannot work unless newcomers make some effort to appreciate the nuances of their new environment and acknowledge a need for some adaptation. This is not to say there's an unwillingness on the part of newcomers, but rather, that there exists an opportunity to better align the available support services to facilitate adaptation to the needs of a wide variety of newcomer communities, and indeed, to develop new services where there might be a need to do so.
A good example of that is the importance of offering refugee integration services in mother tongues, rather than the official Canadian languages. Canadian culture workshop curricula need constant review to include topics that might not have been previously deemed important, topics such as parenting norms, western social etiquette, gender interaction, and so on.
The food bank's community capacity-building program recognizes the mental health component caused by racism within the marginalized communities and has intervened by facilitating various training symposiums on mental health in the Muslim community, bringing together health care, the community, and professional service providers.
In the interest of time, we've identified the one top priority item that we feel would make the biggest impact. Stated plainly, we believe government should direct funding flows more effectively towards community organizations. This would remove one of the key hurdles that prevent community organizations from scaling up the impact of their already worthy efforts. We have argued in the submission that community organizations occupy a uniquely advantageous position, as compared with government agencies or government-funded NGOs, to engage with victims and perpetrators of racial discrimination. This is because the discrimination invariably plays out at the inter-community or intra-community level.
Community organizations such as these exist throughout Canada and represent a vast, untapped but struggling component of society that can be instrumental in shaping and giving expression to the true Canadian identity. Although our operating model represents a response to the specific needs of a particular community, we believe the programs are entirely replicable in all communities. There's no reason that organizations such as ours shouldn't exist in various communities from coast to coast.
Community organizations have, however, been frustrated by the challenges of accessing the vast public funding pools that are already available. Remove these barriers and similar programs could very well spring up around Canada in all communities. Community organizations have a role to play in this as well, and we believe that a buddy system will help them with this.
We have some other recommendations.
Our work with refugees has taught us that the trauma that feeds marginalization starts with and subsequently flows through the mother. Programs targeting systemic remediation should focus on the mother or the primary caregiver.
The English-language curriculum for newcomers can be strengthened by applying a human rights lens to include topics such as what is discrimination and how to recognize it, and how to cope with Islamophobia in situations such as interviews, and so on.
Expand the curricula of social workers, teachers, public servants, and health professionals, moving beyond simple awareness to cultural competency programs on how to work with immigrants and refugees. The indigenous cultural safety program is a good model of the success of this type of education.
Our prison outreach program has also highlighted the need to align equity and funding in the appointment of prison chaplains with the demographics of the actual prison population so that there's relevant support and social integration of these programs in the prison systems.
In closing, although we are discussing a government-oriented motion, the underlying truth is that it takes coordinated action from all sectors and layers of society to beat back this creeping darkness of racism in Canada. Looking around the chamber, we are humbled that we've been granted the attention of such an esteemed gathering and will be happy to engage with committee members who wish to understand our model and experiences better.
We hope that our submission will contribute to realizing a Canada that continues to be a world beacon of diversity.
Thank you. Good afternoon.
I'm legal counsel of the World Sikh Organization of Canada. We're a non-profit human rights organization established in 1984 with a mandate to promote and protect the interests of Canadian Sikhs as well as to promote and advocate for the protection of human rights of all individuals, irrespective of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, and social and economic status.
At the outset I'll say that our organization supports motion 103 and believes that it's important to condemn Islamophobia, racism, and discrimination in all forms. Given the sharp rise in violence and discrimination against Muslims, we feel that it's appropriate to identify Islamophobia by name as an issue of concern.
In 2015, motion number 630 condemning the rise in anti-Semitism was adopted unanimously. We believe that there should be no issue with condemning the current rise in Islamophobia.
We have noted the opposition to this motion with concern and believe that, while Islamophobia should be clearly defined, reluctance to name and condemn anti-Muslim behaviour is unacceptable. A refusal to address the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment may lead to the further marginalization and victimization of Muslims in Canada.
We believe that the definition of Islamophobia proposed by the Ontario Human Rights Commission is valuable, and we'd encourage its adoption. It reads, “Racism, stereotypes, prejudice, fear or acts of hostility directed towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general.”
Oddly enough, the Sikh community finds itself at the forefront when experiencing Islamophobia, as Sikhs are often the target of mistaken identity attacks. The vast majority of these encounters include name-calling and taunting, yet go unreported. Members of my organization and many others in the Sikh community, however, refuse to address these incidents by declaring they are not Muslims, because hatred and discrimination, whether viewed as mistaken identity or not, have no place in Canada.
The Sikh community in Canada has come a long way. Many have observed that the arc of history from the Komagata Maru incident in 1915, where we stood excluded as a community, to where we are today is nothing less than remarkable. Even a generation ago, it seemed like a distant dream to see a Canada where practising Sikhs, wearing their articles of faith, would be welcomed and accepted.
Despite the fact that Sikhs enjoy a higher profile in Canada than ever before in our history, incidents of discrimination continue to be reported on a regular basis. Every day a major part of my work is addressing incidents of discrimination and racism directed against members of the Sikh community. In the recent past, we've seen incidents of vandalism of Sikh gurdwaras and schools. We've seen attacks on Sikh men who wear the turban. We've also seen repeated incidents of anti-Sikh postering and pamphlets in universities and neighbourhoods.
We also still see regular discrimination against Sikhs due to their articles of faith, particularly the turban and the kirpan. In the past couple of weeks, I've had to deal with a Sikh passenger being denied entry to a TTC bus because of his kirpan; Sikh truck drivers facing harassment and being told they won't be served unless they wear a helmet at ports, even though other employees are not wearing helmets; and even a young Sikh man being told by a drive test examiner that he wouldn't be given a driving test while wearing the kirpan. We're finding that young Sikhs, particularly international students, are disproportionately the victims of these kinds of incidents of discrimination. Steps are needed to ensure that international students know their rights and have the support to speak out when they face discrimination.
Sikhs in Quebec have faced some unique challenges when it comes to the Sikh physical identity. The French brand of secularism, laïcité, which would see the public sphere stripped of all religious identifiers, is not compatible with the wearing of Sikh articles of faith. Attempts to prohibit religious expression, including the wearing of religious symbols or clothing, such as the defunct charter of values or the recently passed Bill 62 in Quebec, cause insecurity and have resulted in increased bias against visible religious minorities, including Sikhs.
Secularism is absolutely important in that no religious group is favoured and the equality of persons is guaranteed, but while our public sphere must remain religiously neutral, secularism does not require that religious expression be excluded. We must ensure that this equitable and open model of secularism is protected in Canada.
With respect to solutions and suggestions to address discrimination, we believe that numbers and statistics are critical tools. We'd heard anecdotally that six students in the Peel region faced challenges as a result of their Sikh identity, so in 2011 we undertook our first survey of over 300 Peel students, and we found that over 40% reported being bullied because of their Sikh identity. This data resulted in our working more closely with the Peel District School Board in addressing these issues.
In our 2016 survey of about the same number of students, the number of students reporting bullying fell to 27%. That's a significant drop. Without the help of numbers and statistics, the scope of the problem could not have been identified, and the work required would not have been as clear.
While in Canada we have statistics with respect to hate crimes, we would echo the suggestion made by CIJA that the government should establish uniform national guidelines and standards for the collection and handling of hate crime and hate incident data. The government should also have human rights-based data collected with respect to government bodies and services.
The more discrete form of discrimination that we need to address is the lack of representation of minorities in boardrooms and institutions. We need to see how minorities are represented and have the numbers to properly address the underlying problems.
Finally, we recommend that one of the best ways to combat prejudice and stereotypes is engagement. When we can engage and ask questions of our neighbours, we create relationships and combat intolerance.
In September, 2016 when “F--k Your Turban” posters were put up at the University of Alberta, Turban Eh! was an event that we came up with, along with our community partners, to which individuals curious about the turban could come and have one tied. The event was a huge success, and on Canada Day 2017 we held the event across Canada in centres including Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, and Abbotsford, with the support of the Community Foundations of Canada. These events were also very successful and generated incredible goodwill and positive relationships. They created a positive and safe space for us to engage with others and for conversations to take place.
Prejudice, discrimination, and racism thrive on ignorance. The solution is to remove ignorance through engagement. We would encourage the government to help create spaces and support events by means of which we can engage with our neighbours of various backgrounds, cultures, and faiths and ask questions in order to learn.
In conclusion, WSO supports all efforts aimed at combatting Islamophobia, discrimination, and racism. We believe that the tools suggested—namely statistics and data, as well as opportunities to engage with others—will make a significant difference.
Those are my submissions. I look forward to any questions you may have.