I call the meeting to order, please.
I'm sorry; we're checking on one of our witnesses to see where she is. In the meantime, we will have the committee business, which was set for the front end of the meeting, now moved to the back end of the second hour, because of the fact that I'm looking at the time and the orders of the day, and it would be easier to do it that way.
I think in the interests of time, I will begin with the witnesses who are here. Ms. Mohammed has not arrived yet. I will introduce Mr. Achab, professor of linguistics at the University of Ottawa; and from the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, Faisal Khan Suri, president, and Aurangzeb Qureshi, vice-president, public policy and communications.
You have 10 minutes to present to the committee, but since you both belong to one group, your group has 10 minutes. You can decide how you're going to split that time.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), this heritage committee is studying systemic racism and religious discrimination.
I shall begin with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council for 10 minutes.
Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you to the committee for giving us this opportunity to present in regard to the study on systemic racism and religious discrimination. We also appreciate the presence of the opposition and members, and their dedication to the subject of discrimination, and Islamophobia specifically.
My name is Aurangzeb Qureshi, as the chair mentioned. I'm the VP for public policy and communications of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, and with me is Faisal Khan Suri, president. We hope our recommendations will help contribute towards reducing and eliminating racism and discrimination in Canada, which also includes Islamophobia.
Just to give you a bit of history on the organization, AMPAC was formed in late 2014, after a string of Islamophobic attacks in Alberta. As such, the organization's mandate is to protect the individual and collective rights of Muslims in a variety of different political and legal settings in Alberta.
We are one of the leading advocates for religious and cultural accommodation in Alberta. The organization actively participates in policy and legal discussions on the treatment of religious and cultural minorities in the province.
AMPAC is also seen as an expert on anti-discrimination and anti-racism efforts in Alberta, not just for Muslims but for all religious minorities. AMPAC has also advocated on policies that provide greater recognition for the rights of minority communities.
As for some highlights in terms of what we've done, we continue to consult with the federal and provincial governments on a variety of legislation concerning the rights, liberties, and recognition of Muslims in Alberta, including in relation to national security and hate crime legislation. We are working on an Andalusian curriculum for Alberta's public education system to ensure that the history of positive interaction between Muslims, Jews, and Christians in medieval Spain is recognized.
We operate an Islamophobia help hotline for the public to report incidents of vandalism and discrimination related to Islamophobia in Alberta. We commentate and speak out against hate crimes of other forms of discrimination in Alberta, including frequently providing expert opinions, publishing op-eds, and arguing for enhanced religious accommodation and acceptance. We host policy forums and workshops with political representatives and members of the public on issues of accommodation of religious and cultural minorities. We collaborate with other faith and cultural communities to foster a broad tolerance of minority accommodation and diversity in Alberta. Last but not least, we organize and facilitate vigils and solidarity events honouring the victims of terrorist attacks in Quebec City and Edmonton.
Moving on to the recommendations, I'm going to kind of build up and come to the recommendation at the end for each of these. There are four recommendations in all. I would like to highlight the AMPAC Islamophobia help hotline that was launched in April 2016, which I alluded to earlier. The hotline was introduced as a tool for the Muslim community and to monitor Islamophobic incidents across Alberta. This was not being done before.
Over the last year, the hotline has received over 400 calls, and we have found that Islamophobic incidents in the province follow a common theme. The targets are either newcomers to Canada who are perceived as Muslim, or women who wear the Islamic head scarf or the hijab. This is evidence that Islamophobia is real. It's not just a Muslim issue; it's an Alberta issue, and it's a Canadian issue.
We understand that paragraph 2(b) of the Charter of the Rights and Freedoms protects freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression. Those wanting to criticize Islam are free to do so. Such criticism of any faith or ideology is warranted under Canadian law. We are also aware however that such free speech also comes within reasonable limits. There are three specific sections of the Criminal Code dealing with behaviour that some people refer to as hate crimes. Section 318, on hate propaganda, refers specifically to advocating for genocide; section 319, on the public incitement of hatred, refers to stirring up hatred in a public place; and subsection 430(4.1), on mischief relating to religious property, specifically refers to mischief at churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples.
Given the very specific nature of these offences, we have found that it is extremely difficult to charge an individual with a hate crime, and it demands a threshold that is unrealistic. For example, section 319 specifically requires the consent of the Attorney General in order to lay charges, a high bar and something that very few other sections require.
Late last year, in Edmonton, a man pulled a noose from his coat, pointed to two Muslim women wearing the hijab, and told them, “This is for you.” He then proceeded to sing the Canadian national anthem. No charges were laid. Incidents like these create a terrible precedent that essentially provides cover and licence. It tells others that they can engage in these types of practices and discriminatory acts.
AMPAC recommends clarifying the ambiguous nature of section 319 and amending section 318 of Canada's Criminal Code so that a hate incident can be charged as a crime without having to specifically meet such an unrealistic threshold of genocide. The section on mischief should also go beyond religious property and include the utterance of violent, racist threats to be a prosecutable offence. This is in light of the latest Statistics Canada report that indicates police-reported hate crimes had increased 39% in Alberta in 2015, the largest spike among provinces in Canada.
This brings me to recommendation number two. AMPAC also believes that there must be recognition that Islamophobia is a systemic problem, propagated through media and culture, and not a political issue, and that to address it, social change needs to occur at a grassroots educational level. As a result, AMPAC works closely with all three levels of government to ensure that programs are put in place that emphasize the Canadian values of pluralism, inclusion, and acceptance. We are continuously working with the City of Edmonton and Alberta municipalities to provide educational programs and anti-racism initiatives, and also supporting the Alberta provincial government in its efforts to eliminate racism through its engaging Albertans about racism initiative.
AMPAC recommends that the government build the educational capacity and structures necessary to address systemic discrimination on an ongoing basis. This includes supporting the creation of local programs that receive federal funding that focus on getting to know Muslims as normal, everyday people with the same hopes, desires, and aspirations as anyone else. One example of this is—as I alluded to earlier—the Andalusian curriculum that we're working on that shows that Muslims, Jews, and Christians have lived in peace and continue to live in peace and tolerance. The next recommendation as part of this is the creation of a federal board working to reduce and eventually eliminate Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and other forms of racism with local representation from various provinces at a grassroots level.
AMPAC also has excellent relationships with law enforcement across the province. We have received tremendous support from local police and see them as equal partners in AMPAC's success. We continue to have frank discussions with law enforcement about security issues and the rise of far-right organizations such as The Three Percenters, Worldwide Coalition against Islam, and the Soldiers of Odin, all of which have a presence in Alberta.
At every step, law enforcement has been on our side, but there are certain developments where we feel that may not be the case sometimes. This case is still in the courts, but it raises some red flags. A statement of claim against CSIS lays out the experiences of employees who, after enduring many years of discrimination on the basis of religion, race, and sexual orientation, have finally made their claims public. Three Muslim intelligence officers, known as Bahira, Cemal, and Emran for the purposes of anonymity, noted that anti-Islamic comments and views were common in the workplace. Most notably, the claim states that there was a belief that “all Muslims are suspect, and while they appear to blend in, they could strike at any time”. The statement also alleges similar discriminatory behaviour against a gay and black employee by both staff and management.
AMPAC recommends that the committee be proactive and collaborate with the ministry of public safety and ensure that prospective CSIS and RCMP officers are provided with sensitivity training on diversity inclusion. If we truly want to address and eliminate systemic racism, it has to be addressed in the corridors of power. CSIS is one of those corridors that operates in relative obscurity.
Next is recommendation number four. Canada is a land that has historically accepted people from many backgrounds and religions, and continues to do so. Such is also true of the thousands of Syrian refugees who have crossed our borders over the past couple of years. As we already know, many of these refugees are coming to Canada from war-torn countries that have a lasting effect on their mental health. These same children will attend school—
I have a power point presentation, but I didn't have time to do the connection. You won't be able to see it, but you will be able to hear it.
First, let me make sure that I did not get the context wrong. I got this invitation last Friday, so I had very little time to get prepared. The context is that people are committing acts of violence and terror, killing innocent victims. Other individuals are blamed, retaliated against, and sometimes even killed for those actions when there is no relation whatsoever between the first category—the killers—and the second category. Yes, if nothing is done, other victims might follow, unfortunately. This is, I guess, the motivation behind this committee. The Canadian government has been urged to act quickly to “recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear”. This is how it was presented.
This presentation has two parts. I guess it will be five minutes for each. In the first part, I will provide a few comments, first as a linguist, on the word “Islamophobia”. Dictionaries do not offer the same definition of the word. A compilation of the different definitions was put online by Kathleen Harris of CBC News. From the different dictionaries, only one matches the one that was officially retained by the committee. It's also the one in circulation. It's also the one that matches the definition by the activists in the Islamic field.
The definition retained by the committee suggests that “rational” hatred is all right, from my understanding, but “irrational” hatred is not okay. We need to know where the borderline stands between what is rational and what is irrational. We know that Canada is a country that does not accept any form of racism, rational or irrational, or any form of discrimination. Spreading hatred is also condemned by Canadian laws.
Now I'll turn to the word “phobia” itself. Phobia is a medical term that refers to one type of mental disorder. If these people who are showing this hatred and doing these killings are phobic, then maybe they need help. It's medical help they need, not a law or anything that condemns them.
The definition provided by the American Psychiatric Association is that phobia is an anxiety disorder “defined by a persistent fear of an object or situation”. It is a mental representation. So if we talk about Islamophobia as a phobia—because the word “phobia” is in it—then it is a mental representation that does not match the reality of what a phobia is.
A phobia is a mental representation that does not match the external world. That's why we talk about people with social phobia having an erroneous mental representation of what the crowd is. They are afraid. They are scared to go there, but there is nothing there with the crowd.
We can also speak of claustrophobia, which is when someone is scared of being in an enclosed space. Someone who's claustrophobic is scared of being in an elevator because they think they will get stuck there. Usually they don't. This is also a mental disorder.
Homophobia is another one. Yes, because of the mental representations we have built, which are based on the way that religions and adults present the community of homosexuals—like they're wrongdoers—it is a phobia. It is a wrong mental representation that we all need to correct. We are in 2017. Everybody needs to correct their mental representation of homosexuals. That's it and that's all. They are not wrongdoers. The people who attack them think they are indeed wrongdoers.
You cannot talk about black-ophobia. Nobody speaks about Armen-ophobia, Kurd-ophobia, Yazid-ophobia, or Copt-ophobia—the Copts in Egypt who are slaughtered almost every day. For me, the word Islamophobia is sincerely inappropriate.
Of course, there is this freedom of academic lexical creation. People are free to create words and people are free to use them, but they do not have space in Parliament or any institution that is concerned with laws of a society. This is how I see the problem with the word Islamophobia. There's a difference between enjoying the freedom of academic lexical creation and embracing what the coined word suggests. We need a distance between the word that is offered to us and what is inside the word. Words offer some degree of conditioning. When we take a word, we take the concept and somehow we become conditioned by that definition.
Authors of the initial text coined the term and they offered us a definition. However, by offering us a definition, they're also asking us to change the definition of phobia. Who can do that? Again, the word is not justifiable, is not motivated, from my perspective as a linguist.
All this is just one side of the coin, though the debate about Islamophobia, the word itself and all the debate. What about the other side of the coin? This is the second part of this presentation.
Keeping in mind the context that I have just mentioned earlier, is there any rational fear that Canadian citizens are concerned about? There's this irrational fear, but is there any other rational fear that the Canadian government maybe should address? There is another question: Is anyone having a different opinion necessarily a racist, a white supremacist, or a conservative hiding other intentions under the veil of freedom of speech?
The answer to the first question—is there any rational fear Canadian citizens are concerned with?—is yes. Obviously, yes. The elements of the answer are actually in the debate itself, on TV, in forums of discussion, and group discussions. What is this something else, this other side of the coin? It is the threat between the ideology—
Ms. Chair, committee members, thank you for inviting me here and giving me the opportunity to speak about something that is very personal to me.
I was born and raised in Canada. I both attended and taught at publicly funded Islamic schools in Canada. I wore a hijab from the age of nine in Canada, and later when I was forced into marriage with a jihadi, I wore a niqab here in Canada as well.
In all those years, I cannot cite one single case of discrimination against me. In fact, it wasn't until I removed my hijab in my late twenties that I realized I had been living a charmed life. Canadians no longer went out of their way to hold the door open for me extra-long, lest they be perceived as racist. They no longer made a point to smile at me, lest they be perceived as racist. Canadians would bend over backwards and part the seas if they could to avoid being perceived as anything but the open-minded, kind-hearted, and welcoming people they are. I've travelled and lived in many parts of this world, and I can say without a doubt that I am so grateful and so privileged to be Canadian.
M-103 aims to quell bigotry against human beings. This is a value that Canadians proudly stand for, a value that we can see manifested in every aspect of our lives as Canadians. Of course, none of us want anyone to ever feel discriminated against. Unfortunately, M-103 is doing the exact opposite of its intent. Rather than quelling bigotry, it is feeding the fire. Because it includes the word “Islamophobia”, that is not about protecting people, Muslims, but is rather about protecting the ideology, Islam.
Canadians, like all people, are afraid. They are concerned about this ideology that seems to be spreading across the planet, an ideology that is killing people every day. Ever since the Paris attacks that happened this very month two years ago, people in the west have been naturally uneasy and suspicious about how a so-called peaceful ideology could be spilling so much blood.
To people like me, people with backgrounds in the Muslim world, this is blasé. We have been dealing with Muslims killing in the name of religion for 1,400 years. We are accustomed to Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadis like al Qaeda and ISIS. I was married to a member of al Qaeda, I had his baby. None of this is a mystery to me. None of this is new. To most Canadians it is new, and it is terrifying. Naturally, when something is new and terrifying, we want to talk about it. We want to question it, we want open dialogue and civil discourse to unpack these ideas and understand why this is happening all around us. M-103, with its mention of the word “Islamophobia” is quashing that natural and healthy desire to question and learn and understand.
The antidote to bigotry and fear is education, but M-103 is telling Canadians, no, you have no right to question, criticize, or fight against this ideology that is killing your fellow human beings. You must bite your tongue when you learn that 13 countries will execute you for being gay, or that the overwhelming majority of girls in Egypt and Sudan have had their clitoris cut out. You must turn the other cheek when you see a child wrapped in clothing that restricts every one of her five senses. You must smile and nod when you see yet another child being forced into marriage where she'll be raped for the rest of her life.
M-103 wasn't around when I was a child, but its premise of Islamophobia is what caused a judge to send me back to my severely abusive family when I was 13 years old. He knew my family had hung me upside down in the garage and whipped the bottoms of my feet, but he sent me back anyway. He sent me back because, as he explained it, different cultures have different ways of disciplining their children. If only I had been born with white skin, then that judge would have deemed me worth protecting. But, alas, I came from the wrong culture, so I was sent back.
In his aim to be culturally sensitive, that judge ended up being incredibly bigoted. He treated me differently from all other Canadian kids because of my cultural background, and that is unacceptable.
Quite often Canadians have the best of intentions, and M-103 is an example of that, but we must be so careful to not have minds so open that our brains fall out. We must be careful to not be so tolerant that we end up tolerating things that should be intolerable. Our hearts are in the right place. We just have to make sure that our minds are as well.
M-103 aims to protect Canadians from racism and religious discrimination. Of course, we all stand behind that value. We are a secular nation. We believe in freedom of religion and freedom from religion. We believe in freedom of thought. What we don't believe in is laws that aim to protect any ideologies, including religion, from scrutiny, criticism, questioning, debate, and even ridicule. I link arms with Muslims like Tarek Fatah and Raheel Raza here in Canada, Imam Tawhidi in Australia, Asra Nomani in the U.S, and Maajid Nawaz in the U.K., Muslims who fight against these archaic laws both in Muslim-majority countries and of course over here in the west.
Most Muslims fled here to escape those draconian, oppressive laws that limit their freedom of speech. The last thing in the world they want is to see those laws following them here into the free western world.
It's been said numerous times by numerous speakers, and I add my voice to the chorus, as long as M-103 has the term “Islamophobia” in it, it will only serve to divide and cause more hate, more discrimination, and more fear. All Canadians should be protected from discrimination, and all Canadians should be free to speak out against all ideologies. M-103 is not serving either of those purposes.
In order for M-103 to both protect human beings and not protect any ideology, the term needs to be removed, clarified, or amended to “anti-Muslim bigotry”.
There is a pervasive idea that those who are against the term “Islamophobia” are interested in seeing Muslims discriminated against. This assertion could not be more ludicrous. To loosely quote Christopher Hitchens, “There is a tendency...to think if someone in any way disagrees with [you] it must be for the lowest possible reason and if you found the lowest possible motive you have found the right one.
Those who accuse detractors of M-103 are doing exactly that. It is obviously a disgusting tactic aimed to silence us, but again, this is not new to me. I am accustomed to people using every tactic to try to silence me. My own mother threatened to kill me when I left Islam, but even that did not make me stop speaking my truth.
Ms. Chair, committee members, to reiterate, like most Canadians, I want all human beings to be protected and I will do everything in my power to facilitate this protection. I do not, however, want to extend this protection to ideas, as no ideas should ever be above scrutiny.
Thank you to all the witnesses.
My question is for the representatives of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, if I may begin there.
In your presentation, you gave us a very stark example of an incident that occurred. From that perspective, I am interested to see how we can address these issues—the issue around reporting and the hotline issue that was touched on—in a more practical way. Others have come to this committee to suggest that perhaps utilizing NGOs on the ground, which are close to the community, might create a comfort zone for people to come forward. I'd like you to expand on that, if you could, in terms of recommendations for action.
Related to that piece, I am also very aware of the situation of women, in particular, and how difficult it is for them to come forward. We had other presentations, from other witnesses, on that score. I wonder if you can expand on that issue.
Lastly, on the question around a national strategy, if you will, to address the issue of racism, discrimination, and religious discrimination, would you see, within that plan, the importance of government-funded strategies for NGOs to work in collaboration with all levels of government to address the issue of discrimination?
Very good. Thank you, Madame Chair.
Good afternoon, everyone.
First, let me thank the committee members for inviting me to present the most recent data on hate crimes reported by Canadians and by Canadian police services.
The most recent statistics we have are police-reported data from the calendar year 2015, which were released last June. In an effort to produce more timely data, the committee should know that the 2016 statistics will be released this November 28.
I'm here today, accompanied by Rebecca Kong, chief of police services program, also from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics at Statistics Canada. She leads the uniform crime reports survey, from which most data presented today are coming from, among other surveys in the field of policing.
In summary, the results we are going to discuss today show first that Canada is a very diverse society—and will become increasingly diverse in the coming years—and second that hate crimes reported by Canadians represent one criminal incident out of 20, according to the survey on victimization.
Between 2014 and 2015, incidents of hate crimes reported by the police increased from 1,295 to 1,362. Certain groups saw greater increases. For example, in 2015, the number of incidents involving the Arab and West Asian population increased from 69 to 92 incidents and incidents involving the Muslim population increased from 99 to 159 incidents. I am still talking about incidents reported to the police.
To start with, I'd like to present some recent census data which will help contextualize this presentation.
According to the results of the 2016 census, more than one person out of every five in Canada are foreign-born, a total of 7.5 million people, of whom a number have arrived in recent years. More than two million, in fact, have arrived in the last 10 years.
The Philippines is now the top source country of recent immigration in Canada. It is followed by India and China. Of note, people born in Syria are now also part of the top 10 countries of origin of recent immigrants due to the recent influx of Syrian refugees.
The census data highlights the high degree of diversity in Canada. According to our projections, these trends are expected to continue over the next two decades. It is projected that by 2036, three in 10 Canadians will be foreign-born, and the same proportion will have a mother tongue other than French or English. High fertility will contribute to increase the proportion of aboriginal people in the population as well. Aboriginal youth, for example, represent a relatively large proportion of Canadian youth, and this will continue to grow.
Statistics Canada has two sources of data on hate crime: data on self-reported victimization and police-reported information. The first source is the general social survey—victimization, which is collected every five years, and which was last conducted in 2014. This is about self-reported criminal incidents of various natures. The second source of information reported is what is reported by Canadians to the police, then to Statistics Canada by the police themselves. This is done every year through the uniform crime report.
Let us first look at the results of the general social survey on victimization, which is conducted every five years.
For that survey, a sample of Canadians 15 years of age and over is asked whether they have been victims of certain crimes such as sexual assault, robbery, assault, or vandalism. If the respondents indicate they have been victims of those crimes, they are asked whether they believe that the incident was motivated by hate. If so, they are then asked what the reason for that hatred is.
In 2014, Canadians reported 330,000 criminal incidents that they believed to be motivated by hate. This represented 5% of all incidents reported, or one incident of every 20. The data also revealed that two-thirds of those reporting that they had been victims of an incident motivated by hate did not report it to the police.
Now let us go to the incidents reported to the police. First, it is important to define a hate crime. police data use strict legal criteria, as applied to cases that have been confirmed as a result of a police investigation.
Hate crimes include any Criminal Code incidents that involved one of the four specific offences of hate crimes listed in the Criminal Code. These include advocating genocide, public incitement of hatred, willful promotion of hatred, and mischief motivated by hate in relation to religious property. Police-reported hate crime also includes all other incidents where an offence was motivated by hate, as determined by the police.
On slide 8 of your deck now, you can see that the hate crimes rose by 5% in Canada in 2015. This was largely due to an increase in incidents targeting the Muslim population and Arab or west Asian populations. Police reported 1,362 incidents of that nature, which was 67 more than the year before. Of note though, in comparison, there were almost 1.9 million criminal incidents reported to the police in that same year.
On slide 9, the number of police-reported crimes motivated by hatred, race, or ethnicity grew from 611 incidents to 641, an increase of 30 incidents, or 5%. Close to half of all hate crimes reported to the police in 2015 were motivated by hate of a race or ethnicity. Police reported 469 incidents in 2015 that were motivated by hatred of a religion. That was 40 more incidents than the previous year. These incidents accounted for another 35% of hate-motivated crimes in that year. Hate crimes targeting sexual orientation declined by 9%, which was down to 141 incidents. These incidents accounted for another 11% of hate crimes.
On slide 10, hate crime incidents are considered as violent or non-violent. Examples of violent crimes are assaults and uttering threats, which are the most common types of violent offences related to hate. The most common non-violent hate crime was mischief, which includes vandalism and graffiti. This was the most common offence targeting a religion or ethnicity. Incidents motivated by hatred of sexual orientation in 2015 were more likely to be violent, almost 60% of them. This was followed by those incidents motivated by hatred of race or ethnicity, at 55%.
Now I'll move on to slide 11. Since 2010, black populations have been the most targeted group for these incidents. However, the total number of incidents targeting this group has decreased since 2012. Still, in 2015 police-reported incidents motivated by hate against the black population accounted for 35% of racial hate crimes. In contrast, police-reported hate crimes targeting Arab or west Asian populations have been on the rise since 2013. In 2014, there were 69 hate crimes against this group, and that number went to 92 incidents in 2015. Those incidents accounted for 14% of hate crimes motivated by race or ethnicity.
On slide 12, other groups targeted in 2015 include white populations at 6% and aboriginal populations at 5%. There were 35 police-reported hate crimes targeting aboriginal populations in 2015. These incidents have been relatively low.
The increase in the total number of hate crimes in 2015 was attributable in part to an increase in the number of cases targeting Muslims. The number of hate crimes against Muslims reported to the police increased from 99 to 159, an increase of 61%.
At the same time, the number of hate crimes targeting Jews decreased from 213 in 2014 to 178 in 2015. So, hate crimes against the Jewish population is still the largest number, but the number was followed very closely by crimes targeting the Muslim population.
On slide 14, as you can see, there is an interesting pattern to be observed in relation to the age of the accused. In 2015, youths aged 12 to 17 accounted for 22% of all persons accused in police-reported hate crimes. This is consistent with what was reported the previous year. The majority of those accused of committing hate crimes, 87%, were male. Young males under the age of 25 made up more than a third of all persons accused of hate crimes.
We are on slide 15 now. Persons accused of hate-motivated crimes targeting religion were even younger, which is in line with what was observed in previous years. About half of those accused of hate crimes targeting religion were 24 years old or younger.
Finally, in the age profile on slide 16, you can see that persons accused of hate crimes targeting race or ethnicity tended to be older than those targeting religion. In 2015, 63% were aged 25 or older.
Madam Chair, that concludes my presentation today.
I would like to thank all the members of the committee for their attention and their time.
My colleague Ms. Kong and I are available to answer your questions.