I call to order the 36th meeting of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and a motion that we adopted on Wednesday, June 9, the committee is resuming its study on ideologically motivated violent extremism. Later this afternoon we have some committee business that will be in camera.
We're fortunate today. I appreciate the understanding of both sets of witnesses, that they're able to appear with us together.
From the National Council of Canadian Muslims, we have Mustafa Farooq, chief executive officer, and Sameha Omer, director of legal affairs. From the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, we have Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and chief executive officer.
Again, I thank both groups for agreeing to appear. We look forward to your opening statements of seven minutes each.
With that, I'll turn to the National Council of Canadian Muslims.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for providing us the opportunity to offer our thoughts on your study of ideologically motivated violent extremism in the aftermath of the London terror attack.
My name is Mustafa Farooq. I am a lawyer and the CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. I'm joined today by my colleague Sameha Omer, the director of legal affairs for the council.
By way of background, NCCM was founded as an independent, non-partisan and non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to defending the human rights and civil liberties of Muslim communities living in Canada. For almost two decades, we have been a leading voice in the promotion of human rights in Canada, working tirelessly in the areas of community education and outreach, media engagement and public advocacy, and challenging discrimination and Islamophobia.
With the independently documented rise in hate, racism and Islamophobia faced by our communities, we are here today because we are greatly concerned about public safety. I think this came to a clear head for me personally when over the weekend I introduced members of the Quebec City mosque to members of the London Muslim community at the funeral of the Afzaal family, and then drove back to Toronto to try to attend a vigil at the IMO mosque in Etobicoke.
The reality is that something has gone terribly wrong in this country. The reality is that while I was preparing for this committee last night, I was also at the IIT, the Islamic Institute of Toronto, after two individuals yesterday threatened to bomb the centre after attempting to break in. We were also reaching out to a Black Muslim woman allegedly assaulted in Edmonton. We were also in conversation with the Baitul Hadi centre in Edmonton, which had a swastika drawn on it.
On the evening of January 29, an armed male entered the CCIQ in Quebec. He gunned down six Muslim worshippers and injured several more in a terrorist attack targeting a masjid and the Muslims inside it. The victims were Ibrahima Barry, Azzedine Soufiane, Aboubaker Thabti, Khaled Belkacemi, Mamadou Tanou Barry and Abdelkarim Hassane. In an instance of hate and violence, their earthly presence was taken from us in what remains the worst attack on a house of worship on Canadian soil in modern history.
On the evening of September 12, 2020, a man with alleged links to a white supremacist group, the O9A, walked onto the parking lot of the IMO mosque in Etobicoke and slit the throat of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis. I saw his body that night in the parking lot—even as I had met him that year handing out food to the poor in the worst of the COVID-19 epidemic.
On June 7 a family was run down in London by an accused with alleged hate-based motivations. Terrorism charges have now been brought against the accused. I will read the names of the deceased into the record: Salman Afzaal and his mother, his wife Madiha Salman, and their daughter Yumna. Before leaving London, I met the young child, the sole survivor of the attack. I don't really have words to fully describe what that meant.
We are here today because white supremacist, violent Islamophobic, neo-Nazi and alt-right groups are growing precipitously. They're becoming bolder, whether it's groups like the Soldiers of Odin surveilling a mosque in B.C., a group calling itself “The Clann” intimidating worshippers at Canada's oldest mosque in Edmonton, groups like La Meute in Quebec, or the groups that are now planning celebrations of the London terror attack in Ontario. This list excludes all the other things I was dealing with yesterday. Amongst others, in Calgary a woman wearing a burka was allegedly accosted. As my colleague Sameha can tell you, this is pretty much a consistent occurrence for us. We get these calls 365 days a year.
My submissions before you today are squarely around how we can dismantle white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups that first act as a major source of incitement and enabling of hate, xenophobia and violence against certain segments of the public, including members of the Muslim community. I will also note that our colleagues who join us today from CIJA, in tandem with dozens of leading Canadian organizations, joined with us last year in our call for more action on white supremacist groups,
In the interest of time, I'll dive right into the recommendations that we want to highlight before this committee. These key recommendations and approaches are ones that we will further discuss at the National Action Summit on Islamophobia, which I appreciate also had important bipartisan support. From our perspective, these need to be undertaken in order to dismantle the immediate challenges around white supremacist groups in Canada.
First of all, we believe that existing Criminal Code provisions, especially the terror-listing provisions of the ATA and section 70 of the Criminal Code, should be used to dismantle groups like the Three Percenters. Even as this government utilized current legislative options in dismantling white supremacist groups, such as Blood & Honour, Combat 18, the Proud Boys, we believe that the tools already exist in the Criminal Code to list terrorist groups and to disband militias. These provisions need to be used to deal with the other 250-plus white supremacist organizations in Canada.
Section 70 of the Criminal Code, for instance, deals with prohibiting assemblies of persons for the purpose of “training or drilling themselves”, “being trained or drilled to the use of [firearms]” or “practising military exercises”. This could be used to prevent the actions of groups and the mobilization of groups like the Three Percenters. When we're talking about ideologically motivated violent extremism, we need to recognize that there are already existing provisions in the Criminal Code that can be used to dismantle some of these groups.
Secondly, we recommend the addition of new legislative listing provisions to the Criminal Code that specifically list white supremacist groups as white supremacist groups. Groups like the Soldiers of Odin may not meet the high threshold of being a listed terrorist entity and are not a militia, but these groups provide significant threats to Canadian Muslim communities. Like the organization that is planning on hosting a celebration of the London terror attack, there's no reason for these groups to be allowed to continue to exist, congregate, mobilize, plan their hate in Canada.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, along with the members of the committee, for inviting our participation in this important discussion. My name is Shimon Fogel. I'm the president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the advocacy agent of the Jewish federations across Canada. We're a national non-partisan, non-profit organization representing more than 150,000 Jewish Canadians affiliated through Jewish federations from coast to coast. Our mission is to preserve and protect the quality of Jewish life in Canada through advocacy.
For Canada's Jewish community, the conversation about ideologically motivated violent extremism is inextricably linked with anti-Semitism. As I speak, Jewish Canadians are facing a dangerous rise in anti-Semitism across the country, and indeed, around the world. The UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, an organization that closely monitors the security situation of the Jewish community in the GTA, reported a fivefold spike in anti-Semitic incidents last month compared to previous months this year. In May, individuals who attended a peaceful pro-Israel rally in Montreal were pelted with rocks. Police seized weapons and made 15 arrests, including for armed assault. In April in Victoria, the words “Kill the Jews” and “Gas the Jews” were spray painted on a Jewish community institution. We too observed swastikas and Nazi symbols on banners at anti-Israel rallies in multiple cities. Jewish businesses were targeted across Canada, either by vandals or for boycotts.
In Canada, no one should ever feel that they're at risk in their own neighbourhood. No one should feel the need to hide their identity. No Canadian should be made to feel they do not belong, yet we have community members who are thinking twice before wearing a kippah or a Star of David necklace in public. This isn't the Canada we know or want.
In 2019, the most recent year for which Statistics Canada data are available, Jews were the most targeted religious group for police-reported hate crimes, and targets of the second-most-police-reported hate crime overall. On average, an anti-Semitic incident happens pretty much every day of the week, 365 days of the year. Comprising only less than 1% of the Canadian population, Jewish Canadians accounted for 16% of all victims of hate crimes in 2019, a trend repeated year after year. This should be of grave concern to all Canadians.
Anti-Semitic incidents are also occurring online, in troubling numbers, where anti-Semitism and ideological extremism percolate and pose a threat to the well-being of all Canadians. As social media has become central to our daily lives, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, anti-authoritarian and other hate-filled groups are exploiting platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter and Instagram to spread their toxic ideals, often targeting our children and young adults. These vile groups are also active on Parler, 8chan and in other dark corners of the Internet, where they promote their hatred, radicalize and recruit Canadian youth.
We know from experience that this toxicity spread online can and too often does have real-world consequences. Online activities spurred murders of Jews in Pittsburgh and Muslims in Christchurch. The Pittsburgh shooter reportedly posted more than 700 anti-Semitic messages in hate-filled online communities over nine months prior to the attack. The Christchurch shooter's livestreaming of the killings was a means of promoting and inciting more such heinous acts.
While we welcome the addition of the Proud Boys to the list of terrorist entities, we believe more needs to be done. For some time, we have strongly encouraged the Government of Canada to list both the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, in its entirety, and Samidoun, a PFLP-affiliated organization that operates right here in Canada.
However, we must disabuse ourselves of the idea that radicalization happens only with the support of an organized group. The proliferation of online content has empowered the so-called lone wolf. Radicalization can manifest remotely, circulating in chats and forums without the direct support or coordination of an organized group. This new threat also makes it even more difficult for police and security services to track suspicious activity. From what we understand of the horrific tragedy in London, the murderer acted independently and may have been radicalized as a lone wolf. The same is true of the 2018 Toronto van attack.
Anti-Semitism is not associated solely with ideologically motivated violent extremists. While Jew hatred is central to many xenophobic belief systems such as neo-Nazism and white supremacy, anti-Semitism is also a key component in both religiously motivated violent extremism and in politically motivated violent extremism. Anti-Semitism is a hatred that does not live in a single category. It finds purchase in all three.
What most people may not appreciate is that anti-Semitism is a threat not only to Jews, but also to all Canadians and to our way of life. Combatting anti-Semitism benefits all of us, and we need to call it out whenever and wherever we see it, because what starts with Jews never ends with Jews.
Jewish Canadians value our just, liberal democratic society. There has been a lot of discussion about the role of law enforcement. From our perspective, we believe a well-educated and a well-resourced police force is an essential component in flighting hate crime.
Let me conclude, therefore, by providing five recommendations for the committee's consideration.
First, we recommend that law enforcement be given the tools they need to combat hate and radicalization, including bolstering existing police hate crime and community liaison units, and providing funding to establish new units where they do not yet exist. This includes increasing resources for security services to monitor, track and protect Canadians from online radicalization.
Second, we recommend increasing resources for law enforcement, Crown attorneys, judges and others to ensure they receive sufficient training on the importance of combatting online hate.
Third, we also recommend strengthening legislation to combat online hate, including developing a multipronged approach to raise awareness of online hate, adopting civil remedies to combat online hate, and establishing requirements for online platforms and Internet service providers for monitoring and addressing online hate on their own platform.
Fourth, we believe that funding for the security infrastructure program, SIP, should be increased. This program allows at-risk private not-for-profit organizations, such as places of worship and educational institutions, to enhance their security. To quickly illustrate the value of the program, a security guard at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal was able to thwart an arson attack on the synagogue because of the surveillance cameras funded in part by the program.
Finally, we recommend Canada establish a community institution security rebate. As one of the groups most targeted by hate-motivated crime, Jewish institutions spend millions of dollars every year on security personnel. We recommend that the federal government implement a security rebate for at-risk places of worship, schools and community centres.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair and committee members, even though the Jewish community is resilient, we too feel vulnerable at the moment and we are respectfully asking you to take action. What we have proposed will not only serve the Jewish community, but it will benefit all Canadians. History has taught us repeatedly that if left unchecked, the toxin of anti-Semitism can poison all of us.
Thanks for inviting me here today.
Sure, I'll start, and then I'm sure Mustafa will have things of value to add.
Having tracked the discussions of your committee, I was actually a little heartened at the effort to move away from definitions that are somewhat limiting and don't reflect what you spoke of in terms of the fluidity of the situation. I think it also speaks to your second point about the lone wolf phenomenon.
We had, in previous times, always been anchored in the belief that little cells operated and percolated together, and festered and bubbled until they reached a certain threshold, and then something erupted. What social media has really done is that it has given the individual hater a certain independence, where they can anonymously collect online all of the toxic material that really just inspires them to become increasingly radicalized in their own thinking, and to pick and choose from different grievances that are being articulated in ways that aren't limited to one particular perspective.
While I will absolutely agree that there should be a particular concern about right-wing, white supremacist kinds of phenomena that have been around for a while—which really are, especially for racialized communities like the Muslim community, a particular source of threat—individuals who have hate in their heart or perceive grievances will pull from everywhere in order to enrich, if you want to use such a term, their own sense of injustice that gives them permission to act out in real life what they're feeling in their heart.
I'm encouraged by the idea of moving away from specific terms to more of a generic description that really captures everything in a way that's far less limiting.
I'd like to begin by thanking all of our witnesses for being here today to help us figure out what the situation is on the ground and to try to protect communities across Canada.
I represent a riding that has a very high percentage of Muslims as well as Jewish Canadians. I've heard from both sides how much the fear is very real right now. I've heard that the Jewish community does feel that anti-Semitism is on the rise, especially in the last couple of months. After seeing what happened in London last week, obviously the Muslim community feels afraid to walk in the streets, afraid to go to the mosque, afraid to do things that they shouldn't be afraid of doing.
Currently we have a program—and I'm sure you guys are aware of the it—called the security infrastructure program.
I know that, Mr. Fogel, you mentioned that rebates should be given to institutions to help with security. I'm hearing that perhaps what's already available isn't enough, and maybe there are better ways of doing it. Do you mind commenting on that? This question is for both of you.
Thank you very much for your question, and again, I want to thank all members and your colleagues as well for your unanimous support of the need to stand up and do something. It meant a great deal to folks. I will say the call for the national action summit actually came from the London Muslim mosque in the immediate aftermath of the attack. It is one that we were happy to echo and to champion as well.
In terms of what palpable action can be taken, I think we have to recognize that the challenge in front of us is a multi-jurisdictional one. It is a challenge that has to be confronted by the federal government, by provincial governments, by municipal governments and by territorial governments. For far too long, it's been easy for folks to say that it's another person's job to fix the problem. I think there are huge roles to play at every level to ensure that we're dealing with the challenges in front of us.
At the federal level, it's everything from figuring out new ways to deal with white supremacist groups to online hate regulations and the appointment of a special envoy on Islamophobia. At the provincial level, it's looking at new methodologies for pedagogy and education to focus on anti-racism. Even as the bodies of our indigenous children come out of the earth, I think now more than ever it's time to think about education as a key part of recognizing some of the tragedies that have occurred over this country's history. At the municipal level, it's looking at street harassment and representation. There are so many critical questions.
I think that is what such a national action summit can do. I look forward to working with all of you to make sure that the recommendations coming out of the summit are implemented. Ultimately, the test for governments and individuals who are committed to action is to implement the recommendations that come forward.
I want to thank both witnesses for coming before us today. It's difficult to find the words to express the shock we all felt and the concern we all feel about what happened in London last week. I think, Mr. Farooq, you yourself found difficulty expressing the concerns as well. I think the whole country is shocked by this once again, I'm afraid to say. Also, we heard from CIJA, and Mr. Fogel, about the ongoing and increasing incidents of hatred against Jews and the anti-Semitism spreading throughout the country.
I think we are here today because we as a committee felt that it was extremely important for us to hear from you about what concrete actions should be taken that haven't been taken to date and that might go some way to show that this country takes it seriously, that the government has a means of following through on recommendations. We welcome the suggestions you've made thus far.
First of all, I recognize that in 2019, Mr. Farooq, you appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and talked about asking government to fund programs to train police on how to counter hate and lay charges. That seemed to me to be a fairly basic thing that you requested in 2019. Two years later, are you able to say to what extent the government has acted on that recommendation? Have you been able to find out to what extent the government has provided additional funding for programs of this nature?
Thank you specifically to our witnesses for your amazing testimony. I really appreciate your views on the terminology being used to describe various types of extremism. The consistent message in all of this is hatred. That's the motivation behind all of the violence that we're seeing, whether it be hatred towards political views, towards religious groups, or hatred attached to certain ideologies. I thank you for boiling it down to what it really is as hatred.
I want to go back to my colleague Ms. Stubbs' question about some of the changes to Bill . Both of your groups testified before the public safety committee on that. Some of the things that have changed and were very contentious were the removal of the propaganda and advocacy of terrorism as a criminal charge, and the limitation of security and intelligence or surveillance of protesters in anti-government demonstrations.
Now, you didn't get a chance to respond to that question, both Mr. Fogel and Mr. Farooq.
Should this legislation be revisited with a view to strengthening and actually dealing with the issues—as you both identified in your opening remarks and subsequent testimony—that have created more issues and more ongoing hatred online as a result? I ask because really, law enforcement ability to respond appropriately has been somewhat muted as a result.
With your permission, Mr. Chair, I'll quickly begin and make the following observation.
I think the pace of change in the landscape or backdrop with which we're looking at these issues is breathtaking. The idea that it behooves us to review those instruments, policies, regulations and legislation that are currently in place on a regular basis is one that I think is self-evident.
We never would have thought, even two years.... I mean, smart phones only came into existence at the end of 2012. It's really only now that we're beginning to appreciate the power of social media as a vehicle either for good or, in this context, something very, very not good. So I think that it does behoove us to look at old legislation, old regulations and old approaches, and test them against the reality of today.
I'll also point out that, for example, in a concrete way, we're always trying to balance—and I know your committee is struggling with balancing—the issue of free speech with freedom from threat. Some of you will recall that there was a contentious debate about section 13. It was ultimately eliminated by the government of the day, because it is a two-edged sword. On the one hand it enshrines the notion we all believe in, which is freedom of expression. On the other hand, it's also been used as a way to insulate groups that are trying to foment hate with protection from the very thing we're trying to prevent.
It's adding work to your plate, but I think it behooves you to routinely build into legislation and recommendations a need for periodic review that would test the reality against what you are trying to achieve.
Thank you to both the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs not only for joining us here today but also, importantly, for all the work that you do and for your moving and heartbreaking testimonies today.
I know that the last few weeks have been immensely difficult for so many members of our communities. I know that our communities are hurting, and we are hurting with them. Certainly, this senseless act of terrorism that took the lives of four innocent Canadians in London and left a nine-year-old in critical condition has shaken the whole community and our country, and I just want to first give my condolences to the Afzaal family and prayers for young Fayez and the entire community during this difficult time.
Mr. Farooq, you talked about the terrorist attack in London, Ontario, the attack on the Black Muslim woman wearing a hijab in Edmonton, and the incident at the Islamic Institute of Toronto. These events aren't isolated incidents. These incidents continue to show us that white supremacy and Islamophobia exist in our communities and pose a huge risk to public safety. I know that we all have a role to play in fighting Islamophobia. I know that our government has taken steps in the work that we're doing through Canada's anti-racism strategy, from the work we're doing in adding white supremacists groups such as Proud Boys to Canada's terrorist listing, increasing funding to protect places of worship and communities' spaces, and now leading the national summit on combatting all forms of hate, including Islamophobia, which I know the NCCM has advocated that we do. These are all steps in the right direction. However, from your perspective, what could we specifically do right now to combat Islamophobia, discrimination and hatred in all their forms—whether online or offline and which pose such a big threat to our communities—to ensure that nothing like what happened in London ever happens again in our communities?
That's a super-important question, and thank you for putting it on the floor. I'm going to offer you two explanations. They're complementary; they're not mutually exclusive.
Number one, there is no uniform way of capturing what constitutes a hate crime. Different jurisdictions define it differently. They have nuanced distinctions about what would fit within a category and what would not. One of the needs is for the federal government to set national standards that everybody is able to respond to.
I'm also going to be very frank. Law enforcement has a real challenge, and I don't mean this in an adversarial way, but they have to ensure that the information they then forward to the Crown is responded to in a way that's going to reflect the amount of investment, investigation, research, interviews and so forth they put in. When they get the sense that the Crown is not going to lay hate-related charges, that's a disincentive for them to move in that direction when they're investigating a particular allegation or crime.
One of the things that really has to be addressed is, for the lack of a better term, Mr. Chair, the “political will” of attorneys general to direct their staff to accurately and vigorously look at particular crimes to see if they meet the standards of hate crime, because reluctance on their part means it won't go ahead.
Absolutely, and I apologize. I think my Wi-Fi just cut out, so my apologies.
I think the security infrastructure program is important. Obviously it is addressing a need, and in an ideal world we wouldn't have to have a security infrastructure program, but while there remains the need, I think there are a number of critical, key things that need to be done to fix the security infrastructure program.
First of all, the security infrastructure program does not operate effectively as a prophylactic tool. In other words, one generally has to demonstrate a risk of hate-motivated crime. Often that tends to come up once you've experienced a hate-motivated crime. Mosques across the country don't typically end up applying to the security infrastructure program, or they have to go through something first before applying for it, at which point it's far too late.
I think a second key area in which the security infrastructure program needs to reform is in simplifying the process. I am sure all of you, as members, have had folks in your communities reach out to you to ask for help in applying for the security infrastructure program. Applying is an arduous, difficult task for communities that are already under threat, and I think it can be simplified.
I think the kinds of rebate suggestions that have been raised by colleagues are important ones. I think changing it so that it's more prophylactic, easier for communities under threat to access, are critical reforms that could improve the security infrastructure program. Of course, even with the difficulties that it already has, it's often oversubscribed, so I think looking at that is important.
I will say that we have had positive conversations with Public Safety, and our continuing conversations with them, I think, continue to make SIP work better. I look forward to seeing it continue to improve.
The point was made about the Internet and social media and the echo chambers, and certainly as a public figure I have experienced a little bit of the political side of that. I cannot imagine what some of you folks go through, having read some of the reports and whatnot.
The unique aspect is that this sort of activity and kind of lone wolf action can be prompted by activity on the Internet, and then there's the need to balance freedoms and civil liberties with ensuring that that hateful content is dealt with, and dealt with effectively. There is a tension there to ensure that this happens appropriately.
I am wondering, Mr. Farooq and Mr. Fogel, whether you could comment on the following. How, as parliamentarians, do we attempt to find that proper balance to ensure that we deal with the real issues, that there's clear action, but also respect the fact that we're a free country that values freedom of speech and that we find that appropriate balance that is so important?
Mr. Farooq, I would ask you that.
Thank you to our witnesses as well.
I represent the riding where, unfortunately, the Quebec City mosque attack occurred on January 29, 2017. The mosque is in the heart of my riding.
I can tell you one thing: Quebec City's Muslim community was experiencing fear long before January 29, 2017. Groups like La Meute were behind a number of incidents. For example, group members would hand out cards at halal markets and in front of mosques. They wouldn't give their names, but they would tell people they were keeping an eye on them, watching them. They put a pig's head at the front door of a mosque. They were responsible for all kinds of incidents that contributed to a climate of fear, something no one in the country should have to experience because of their faith.
I don't think it was a lack of good faith on the police force's part. I just think it was a lack of training and awareness. Police likely did not have the necessary level of trust or the resources to properly support a community that very clearly felt threatened in its day-to-day activities. Unfortunately, the community still feels that way at times. I think that's true right across the country.
I want both Mr. Fogel and Mr. Farooq to talk about best practices police can apply to build trust with communities. Do you have any examples of things we can do at the federal level? You talked a bit about that in your opening statements, but I'd like you to elaborate.