The meeting is called to order. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), this committee is studying systemic racism and religious discrimination.
We have a group of witnesses scheduled in our first hour, which is from 3:30 to 4:30. This means, because we started late, that we may have to go a little beyond 4:30 with the first group. We have, as an individual, Raymond J. de Souza; the International Christian Voice, Peter Bhatti, chairman; and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, Jay Cameron, barrister and solicitor. Welcome.
Here is how the protocol goes. You will have 10 minutes each to present. Then there will be a round of questions, and we will be able to have a seven-minute round. In this one I don't think we will have time for two rounds; it's just simple math.
I will ask you to begin, starting with Father de Souza for 10 minutes. I'll give you a two-minute warning.
Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Thank you for the invitation to address this committee regarding motion number M-103. There are several issues addressed by the motion, and the language is, at least to my ear, sufficiently bureaucratic to make it difficult to understand what exactly is being contemplated. It is difficult therefore to respond with any great degree of specificity, but permit me to make four points that I think are related to the motion.
The first one is that racism and religious discrimination are different things, although this motion appears to treat them as alike. Race, of course, involves characteristics inherited at birth. Religion is a matter of faith and practice, which can change. For example, a Pakistani who decides to become Christian changes not his race or nationality but his religion.
I am honoured today to be in the presence of Peter Bhatti, brother of the martyr Shahbaz Bhatti, who was killed out of hatred for his Catholic faith by people who shared the same race but were of the Islamic faith.
Religions, of course, include many different races. For example, my church, the Catholic church, is by far the most multiracial institution on earth, yet every day Catholics endure persecution, even martyrdom, and it is not because of their race. Anti-racism efforts do not, therefore, address the problem of religious discrimination.
The second point is that the motion condemns all forms of religious discrimination and calls upon the government to advance initiatives to better reflect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I note that freedom of religion and conscience is the first fundamental freedom enumerated in our charter. I welcome a robust embrace of religious freedom, but note that it is often the government, through legislation and regulation, that impinges upon religious freedom. That is true for Jews and Christians as well as for Muslims. To focus therefore on one particular religion would be, I think, unwise.
A renewed culture of religious freedom is to be welcomed, especially in a political culture in which often all religious belief and practice is accorded second-class status. Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other religious believers encounter a sort of secular fundamentalism that is incompatible with Canada's heritage of religious freedom, pluralism, and tolerance. If this motion were to lead to a renewed culture of religious freedom, that would be praiseworthy.
Point three, Islamophobia is a term, I suppose, that is meant to capture hatred of Muslims, which is rather straightforward to deplore. The question is whether Islamophobia includes a critical evaluation of Islamic doctrine in practice. For example, Christians and Muslims have quite different understandings of God. One sees this made clear, for example, in the inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem that quote passages of the Quran that deny the doctrine of the Trinity, the foundational doctrine of Christianity.
Doctrinal and moral disagreements can be engaged as we live together with our differences. I don't imagine that the Government of Canada wishes to engage in theological matters, which are outside its competence, but neither should it seek to discourage theological exchange, even critical theological exchange.
My fourth point is that honest and respectful theological exchange is all the more important in the face of religiously inspired violence, regardless of what group it's directed against. I quote, for example, from former president Bill Clinton on the question he was addressing of radical Islamist violence. He asks, “How shall we respond?” and says:
We can try to kill and capture them, but we can't get them all. We can try to persuade them to abandon violence, but if our arguments have no basis in their own experience, we can't fully succeed. Our best chance is to work cooperatively with those in the Muslim world who are trying to reach the same minds as the radicals by preaching a more complete Islam, not a distorted, jagged shard.
That's from Bill Clinton's introduction to a book on religion in foreign policy by Madeleine Albright, his secretary of state. It is extraordinary to hear a statesman speak about the need for better preaching—in this case, of Islam—which is the task of theologians and clergy primarily, not of governments.
However, President Clinton acknowledges what we all know, namely that this better preaching is an urgent task. Canada is perhaps well-situated for this necessary dialogue and exchange to take place, which is primarily theological. We have here in our country an Islamic community that is able to speak freely and to carry out respectful dialogue with other religions. That is not the case everywhere in the Islamic world. Such theological work will be challenging and even provocative, but we have a tradition in Canada that will enable us to undertake it with respect and tolerance. Therefore, concerns about Islamophobia, however understood, ought not prevent that necessary work and that challenging and even provocative dialogue from being done.
Thank you for granting me the opportunity to address you. I pray God's blessings upon your work.
Honourable Chair, members of the committee, I would like to thank the heritage committee for giving me the opportunity to address the fears and concerns of my community of Pakistani heritage regarding motion 103.
I come here today as a concerned Canadian citizen and as chairman of the International Christian Voice. My brother, Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister of Minority Affairs, was assassinated in Pakistan in 2011 for protecting the rights of persecuted religious minorities.
Canadians of Pakistani origin have chosen to call Canada their new home because of the religious liberty, freedoms, and democratic system they can enjoy here, which allow them to thrive and prosper. We left our homes to live in a country where we are free to voice our opinions and concerns without fear or hesitation, whether they are religious, social, political, or otherwise. I believe this is an essential part of the framework of our free society in Canada.
M-103 has created great concern regarding the impact it will have on religious freedom and freedom of expression for us, our children, our grandchildren, and the generations to follow. Our main concern lies within the definition of the term “Islamophobia”, which is an unclear and confusing term. We all believe that the discrimination and prejudice against any individual based on their Muslim faith is intolerable and unacceptable. However, the ill-defined precept of Islamophobia can also be used to take away the fundamental freedoms of all Canadians to lawfully and respectfully criticize any Islamic religious idea. The potential result that the motion imposes is the cause of growing anxiety within my community and communities across Canada.
The fears of Pakistani Christian immigrants living in Canada are not imaginary. The consequences of being labelled under M-103 under the garb of Islamophobia can have an indirect effect on our relatives and friends who are still living in Pakistan, a country in which blasphemy laws hold a sentence of life in prison, or death. The blasphemy laws have been misused to settle personal, economic, and political disputes, and have resulted in the assassination or murders of members of my family, friends, and prominent members of our community.
We fear that M-103 will foster similar conditions of suffocation and oppression, while cultivating an environment of division and disharmony in our communities. These are the same situations we came to Canada to escape and avoid forever. I fear that an unclear definition of Islamophobia can be used as a tool by vested Islamist activists to manipulate Canadian law to restrict free speech and criminalize non-Muslims for expressing, celebrating, and defending their respective faiths.
In our community's humble opinion, there was no need to table M-103, singling out Islamophobia. Will it really change attitudes for the better? Why a special focus on one religion? Are the existing laws not sufficient to protect religious freedoms? If not, then why not table a motion restricting prejudice against all religions?
Our community's concern is that the motion will, in some manner, stop valid criticism of Islamist terror and will prevent our children from standing up to defend criticism of their own faith.
My family, friends, and community very strongly believe and urge that Canadian laws should not be diluted to accept regulations imposed on us through international influence. To cite an example, one only has to look at England where the government gave in to the Muslim population who demanded and got a change from the historical common law to sharia law in some of their cities. This has had a devastating effect on the original British inhabitants who have moved out.
In 2011, Britain's Muslims began demanding that sharia replace British common law and it became the only law in towns with large Muslim populations, including Manchester, Liverpool, and several other towns. In one such east London enclave, their streets are plastered with posters declaring that you are entering a sharia-controlled zone. Islamic rules enforced, and Muslim imams now issue death threats to women who refuse to wear the hijab.
Over 100 sharia law courts have been established across the U.K. and these sharia courts have been issuing rulings that contradict British common law. In 2011 British Prime Minister David Cameron said that multiculturalism has been a failure and has promoted Islamic extremism across Europe.
If M-103 is not opposed or altered to include all religious groups in Canada, we feel that this push toward exclusive individual treatment will not stop here. Instead of creating peace and harmony among different faith communities, this motion only moves us in the direction of division and separation.
We, in our community, do not want to see our next generations being led back into what we have faced and escaped from. As a Christian community, we will stand and continue to voice our fears and our concerns so that our children and grandchildren will never again have to go through what their parents and grandparents have been through. We will stand on guard for Canada.
Once again, thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. God bless Canada.
Honourable members of Parliament, thank you for having me here today.
I'm here on behalf of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. It's a registered charity, non-partisan and non-religious, and it receives no government funding. It's dedicated to upholding the charter freedoms of Canadians, particularly those in section 2.
I'm going to discuss four things today in brief. First will be a brief refresher on the importance of freedom of thought and expression in our democratic society. Second, I'm going to talk about the threatening, inapt, and vague language of the motion itself. Third, I'm going to talk about vagueness and its terms in the motion, particularly in regard to Islamophobia. Fourth, if I have time, I'm going to talk about some of the threatening and alarming talk from witnesses.
The Supreme Court of Canada has stated, “The very lifeblood of democracy is the free exchange of ideas and opinions.” In the case of the Edmonton Journal v. Alberta, Justice Cory stated:
It is difficult to imagine a...right more important to a democratic society than freedom of expression. Indeed a democracy cannot exist without that freedom to express new ideas and put forward opinions about the functioning of public institutions.
The courts have repeatedly held that freedom of expression should only be limited in the clearest of cases. Freedom of expression, however, does not just protect speakers. It also protects listeners. This point is especially relevant because of comments you heard last Wednesday from one of your witnesses in regard to “trash radio”. In Canada, people can have opinions about trash radio and can call it trash radio. It's a free country and you can say that. In Canada, citizens of this country get to determine what is trash, not the government.
In Harper v. Canada, the majority of the court noted, “The right of the people to discuss and debate [new] ideas forms the very foundation of democracy”. In speaking specifically of the need for citizens to hear, the majority of the court stated, “Freedom of expression protects not only the individual who speaks the message, but also the recipient.”, i.e., the recipients of so-called trash radio.
I'll pause to note that calling something “trash” of course dismisses any content of value that it may have. It's just like me referring to a witness before this committee as a trash witness. The appropriate thing to do is to contradict the thoughts that he had and rebut them with more constitutional and more enlightened thoughts.
Freedom of expression and hearing is not a Canadian idiosyncrasy. It is the right to receive information that is enshrined both in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Canada is a signatory to both. American case law, which has been referenced as just as relevant in Canada as it is in the United States, has said, “The freedom to speak and the freedom to hear are inseparable; they are two sides of the same coin.” But the coin itself is the process of thought and discussion.
The motion before you states that there is a rising “public climate of hate and fear” in this country which the government needs to “quell”. I don't know how the word “quell” got past the House of Commons, but I can tell you right now that the word “quell” is a concerning word. It is defined as “to thoroughly overwhelm and reduce to submission or passivity” and “to put down forcibly and suppress”. It is language that is frequently used in the context of riots, not in the upholding of constitutional freedoms of Canadians.
The word “quell” in the motion only serves to increase concerns about motion 103. It hints at compulsion, with an implied use of force.
This committee should be exceedingly wary of assuming that there is a rising “public climate of hate and fear” in this country. According to the 2017 global peace index, which was presented at the United Nations this year, Canada is the eighth-safest country out of 163 nations globally. The largely peaceful day-to-day coexistence of millions of people from various races, cultures, and religions in Canada contradicts the assertion that there is a rising climate of hate and fear in this country that requires a forceful legislative response.
Existing laws already place careful limits on conduct between Canadians. I'm referring to the criminal law, human rights laws, tort laws, and defamation laws. Mr. John Stuart Mill noted, “The third, and most cogent, reason for restricting the interference of government, is the great evil of adding unnecessarily to its power.”
It is not the government's role to make everyone love each other. Government's role is to uphold constitutional freedoms.
That brings me to Motion No. 103 and the term “Islamophobia”. The word is not defined in the motion. This committee has been asked to study and put forward its recommendations in regard to the elimination of Islamophobia. I don't know what it is, but, worse, neither do you.
Worst of all, you've been asked to craft a legislative response to it. MP Iqra proposed that Islamophobia is the irrational fear of Islam. This definition raises more problems than answers, not the least of which is whether Parliament can constitutionally legislate against an irrational fear. If there is an irrational fear of Islam, does that mean that there may be rational fears or concerns that are not Islamophobic? Where would you draw the line between the two?
Canada is one of the safest countries in the world, but other people who live in other nations are not so fortunate. The Middle East and North Africa are ranked by the GPI as the least peaceful nations in the world for the fifth successive year this year. Political instability is rife there. There are wars and internal fighting, and they are fundamentally less safe than this country.
Is it Islamophobic for Canadians to be concerned about how the immigration of persons from these nations may impact the safety of Canada? Is it Islamophobic to conclude that the nations that are ruled by a combination of mosque and state are far less safe than Canada and are repeatedly and consistently ranked among the most dangerous countries in the world? Should it be illegal to express such concerns?
Wadi is a non-government organization operating in the Middle East. The word “wadi” is Arabic for valley. It focuses on women's issues. After gaining the trust of local women in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, they learned that female genital mutilation in that part of the country was common, and that the procedure was reportedly performed with unsterilized instruments or even broken glass, and without anaesthesia, on girls four to 12 years old, with the extent of the mutilation dependent on the experience of the midwife and the luck of the girl.
The cutting of the clitoris is performed according to the sunnat excision, the excision according to the tradition of the prophet. The locals reported that the wound is then treated with ash or mud, with the girls then forced to sit in a bucket of iced water. Many Kurdish girls die, and others suffer chronic pain, infection, and infertility.
In subsequent studies, it was found that 60% of the women in that part of Iraq, which adheres to a variety of Islam, have undergone female genital mutilation. Despite the fact that the United Nations has attempted for decades to stamp out the practice, it is expanding. The clitoris is considered dirty, haram, and women fear they cannot find husbands for their daughters if they have not been mutilated. Many believe that men prefer sex with a mutilated wife.
Interestingly, when the widespread use of female genital mutilation by Iraqi Kurds was reported, some members of influential Islamic and Arabic organizations in the diaspora scandalized the findings. They accused Wadi of trying to insult Islam and spread anti-Islamic propaganda. Members of the Initiative of Muslim Austrians called the data part of an Islamophobic campaign and declared that no female genital mutilation exists in Iraq. They declared it part of an Islamophobic campaign. That is the word that you are tasked with legislating the elimination of. Think about that.
Is it Islamophobic to voice concerns about the safety and security of Muslim women? Is it irrational for a Canadian to be concerned about child female genital mutilation and its continued occurrence in some communities here in Canada, or that there has never been a conviction for female genital mutilation in Canada?
This government is always saying that it stands for women's rights. A customs and border patrol report was released this summer to the federal government that said the practice is occurring here in Canada and that people are coming in to perform it. It is happening here to Canadians, and according to the resources in my paper, Canadians, who have constitutional rights under section 7, have been mutilated against their will. Is it Islamophobic to condemn such a practice?
Saudi Arabia just said that it's going to allow women to drive. Is it Islamophobic to condemn the fact that it took them this long to decide to do that?
Is Mr. Fatah an Islamophobe because he thinks it's repugnant for women to be compelled to wear a burka? He is a Muslim, and he has said that there is a reformation of kind going on in the Islamic faith where he is fighting against these kinds of popes who pretend to infallibility—
Thank you so much, Madam Chair. Thanks so much to the three speakers for your presentations today. I very much appreciate your taking the time to be here and making the time to be part of our deliberations.
I'm new to the committee, and I want to make sure that I am very clear with what our objectives are here today, so I think your comments are very relevant. I'm going to start off by reiterating what we're trying to do here in this committee. The part of the motion that we're focused on right now is the part where it says, “(c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study”, so not legislation, “on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centred focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making”. The second part is, “(ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities”. Then there's a timeline, in which it asks us to do this work and to present it to the House.
I feel it's important for us to reiterate that, just because my questions are going to be very much focused on that. I'm someone who's focused on trying to get to solutions. What we are asked to do, another way of saying it is, how can the Canadian government develop a plan to combat systemic discrimination and racism in Canada? How can we engage community groups in Canada in this plan? How can we ensure that this plan is based on evidence and on data?
When we're talking about the collection of data, how can we collect the data in a way that will allow us to understand the hate crimes that are actually taking place? Once we have this data, how is it that we can conduct a needs assessment on those impacted communities?
Based on what we are trying to do—I've just stated what we're trying to do—I would be very grateful if I can hear from each of you your recommendations. If we were to develop a plan to combat systemic racism and discrimination in Canada, what would be your specific recommendations for that?
Perhaps, Father de Souza, I could start with you, and we can go down the line. Thank you so much.
Thank you for your kind words of welcome. I'm also new to this environment.
I would say, first of all, separate the two. Racism and anti-religious discrimination are not the same thing. There are people of minority racial groups who belong to majority religious groups, and vice versa, so it's not the same thing. That would be my first suggestion.
It worries me because the language of the motion seems to throw many things together, which indicates that perhaps the motion wasn't very clear about what specifically the danger is to be counteracted. What I fear is that when you have an ambiguous problem to solve, you get very wide-ranging solutions that can go in search of a problem. The problem that concerns me most is that the kind of theological and religious exchange, which can take place in Canada but can't in other countries, might be chilled if an environment where one religion—in this case Islam—were thought to be out of bounds for that kind of discussion.
Actually, my concrete advice is that I think the government should probably not do too much to encourage theological and religious exchanges between various Canadian groups because it's not the competence of the government to get involved in matters which are really not its own competence.
I would separate the two. I think that to the extent that there are attacks on, in this case, Muslims, we can cover them with existing laws, but we ought to encourage exchanges that take place in Canada very commonly—I'm involved in some of them myself—between Muslims and Christians, Christians and Jews, Jews and Muslims, plus all the other religions.
Thank you, Chair, and thank you very much for the opportunity.
I want to thank the witnesses. I often talk about full disclosure, so I want to disclose something else as well.
I've had the great honour, for almost the past dozen years, to serve on the Subcommittee on International Human Rights. One of the most compelling and most tragic memories I have is this. We had Shahbaz Bhatti give testimony before our committee, and I had lunch with him shortly after that. He said to me, in these exact words, “David, I will probably pay for this with my blood.” Unfortunately, three weeks later he was gunned down in his driveway in front of his mother's house.
He was your brother, Peter. His photograph is beside my desk to continually remind me that what we do here is extremely important, and people's lives depend on it.
So the seriousness of my questions cannot be doubted by the witnesses.
First, Father de Souza, I agree with you totally that the government has very little competence in regard to religious debate and in regard to legislating in that arena. We did have a forum here until this session. I hope it's picked up by somebody else. I chaired it for five years. We had the all-party interfaith friendship group, and we had Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Baha'is, Muslims, Christians, Jews—just everyone who would participate in trying to create a forum. As I said, I agree with you on the competence, but we were trying to create a forum where we could have that kind of dialogue.
I want to say to you, Mr. Cameron, that it appeared to me that you had a lot more to say, and that you didn't have the capability.
Chair, I would like to be able to get an agreement from the committee that the rest of Mr. Cameron's testimony, even though it's in writing, could be submitted for evidence. Would that be okay?
Anti-Semitism is a very interesting term, because anti-Semitism is not the same as anti-Judaism. The Semitic races, strictly speaking, include both Jews and Arabs, and Muslims and Jews, but it is true that over quite a long time, the term has acquired a conventional meaning that is widely understood. People don't use “anti-Semitism” to talk about anyone other than Jews, if that is the direction of the offending behaviour.
Islamophobia is a relatively new term. In fact the term—referring to an irrational fear or phobia—already discredits anything that might be negatively construed, or proposes that there might be rational fears, so it is a problematic term.
It could be that 150 years from now everybody will know what it means, in the same way as anti-Semitism is understood. At the moment it's not; therefore, both my fellow witnesses here suggest that it could be misunderstood.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I'd like to thank all three of the witnesses for their presentations.
Mr. Bhatti, let me acknowledge the loss of your brother. I think that under no circumstances is it acceptable that violence be invoked because of a disagreement. I'd like to express my condolences to your family for your loss.
I do want to get to the meat of this motion before us. There is a lot of language around it and from all three witnesses, we're hearing that the way in which the motion was put together, and perhaps the choice of words, is not the best. I think it is fair enough to say that this is not the most elegant motion before us.
I'm an ESL student, so I'm not an expert on any language for that matter, English most definitely, as it's my second language. With that said, I think what we need to get at is the thrust behind it, what the intentions are of the person who moved this motion, what it is she wants to achieve, and therefore, the work of this committee. I think that is critically important.
At the time of debate, since the issue centred around a disagreement around the meaning of the word Islamophobia, it was disappointing to me that the efforts in the House—and I participated in those efforts—failed to bring the government members and the Conservative members to some agreement where we could unanimously support this motion to come together to send a strong message against discrimination of all forms, racism, religious discrimination, and so on, and all stand united with respect to that. Unfortunately, that was not to be, so we are here. It also saddens me that as a result of this situation, we have an environment whereby some people are using this motion to spread more fear, and more hate, and sometimes false information as well. I think that's not really what any of us want to see materialize. Now we're here before us with the work of this committee.
In the spirit in which the MP who moved the motion.... Part of the issue with why Islamophobia was raised was, to my understanding and I think committee members could correct me if they like, the increase of incidents that had been experienced by people from the Muslim community. In fact, we had a presentation from the assistant deputy minister from the Department of Canadian Heritage who cited a recent police hate crime statistics report that there was:
...a 5% increase in reported incidents from 2014 to 2015. While hate crimes targeting black and Jewish populations remain the most common types of hate crimes related to race or ethnicity and religion, hate crimes against those of the Muslim faith increased by 61%, from 99 in 2014 to 159 in 2015.
Those are official statistics. Unofficially, the lived experiences of discrimination and hate for many people are happening in our communities. In fact, I was at an event where that had occurred in Vancouver East, which was extremely disappointing to me, but those things occur.
Within that context and recognizing that this is happening, we need to do something about it. Of course, we also know what happened in Quebec, the terrible incident that had occurred. On the question of trying to de-escalate the fear, and the hate, and the things that we don't want to see materialize in Canada, I want to ask this question about the definition of Islamophobia.
This is from the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and they put forward this definition. In their policy, they define Islamophobia as “racism, stereotypes, prejudice, fear or acts of hostility directed towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general.” I wonder if I can get some comments from you around this definition, which the Ontario Human Rights Commission uses as a definition to address human rights violations in this regard.
Perhaps I could start with Father de Souza.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to focus my questions primarily on Mr. Cameron.
I'll confess that, as somebody who has practised constitutional law for 15 years, I found some of your submissions a bit surprising. I am going to put to you a few propositions, and I am going to ask you to comment on them.
You said that it's the role of the citizens, not the government, to determine what is trash radio. I would say to you that the Supreme Court has clearly stated in its jurisprudence that there are different types of speech, and when speech crosses the line of inciting hatred, it is the role of the government to weigh in, and that's the role of the police and the Attorney General.
I would also ask if you could tell us why we should prefer your testimony on the point of the impact of radio stations in Quebec in fomenting hatred, as opposed to the testimony that we heard from a CSIS officer in Quebec who has been on the ground studying this very issue.
You said that we should be “wary of assuming” rising intolerance. I would ask you to comment specifically on the statistics put to you by Ms. Kwan as to the rise of hate crimes against Jews and Muslims in this country.
I would ask you to specifically tell us where in this motion, in its language.... You keep reiterating that it's asking us to legislate, which it is not. Where does the actual text of the motion indicate to us that we should be legislating, that we should be criminalizing speech, or somehow permitting female genital mutilation?
The last point I want to state.... You said that we can't “constitutionally legislate” to eradicate racism. I would say to you that this undercuts the entire foundation of the federal Multiculturalism Act and all human rights codes in this country, in every province, including the Canadian Human Rights Act. Basically, what you are saying is that the Ontario Anti-Racism Act, which is dedicated to reducing racism, is somehow unconstitutional from your perspective.
What are your comments, please, sir?
Madam Chair, members of the committee, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for this opportunity to address this committee.
My name, as you know, is Raheel Raza. I am president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow.
My family and I will have been in Canada for 30 years next year. Like most immigrants, we came here to embrace democracy, gender equality, and freedom of speech. I can say with conviction that Canada is the best country in the world, with a role to play in terms of leadership. I thank God for being a Canadian citizen to share in its values.
Today we are here to discuss motion 103. Let me make it abundantly clear that bigotry, hate, and racism have to be condemned in the strongest terms. Sadly, they have always been an integral part of human civilization. However, human dignity depends on our unequivocal condemnation of these ugly values and we must speak out against them.
Having said this, we are entrapped by the use of the term “Islamophobia”, which is not clearly defined. As I read and reread the text of motion 103, I can agree with the overall intent but without use of this term, because Islamophobia can and has been used to confuse the masses and stifle free speech.
I've just returned from attending the 36th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, and I have seen how the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has for years been working towards stemming any critique of religion. Critique of religion, by the way, is not critique of people. If there are aspects of any faith that are veering towards human rights infractions, they must be discussed and debated. Religion is an idea, and ideas don't have rights; people do. Canada should therefore be concerned about the rights of all its peoples and not allow itself to fall into the traps laid out by vested agendas.
Right now the world is screaming for an Islamic reform to welcome Muslims into the 21st century with a fresh wave of ideas through the lens of modernity and free thinking, keeping human rights in the forefront.
This is not entirely a new phenomenon. In the ninth century there was a large community of Muslims, known as free thinkers, who would debate and discuss all aspects of the faith to come to a logical conclusion. The ruling elite found this to be a threat, and over a period of time one by one they were eliminated. This silencing of all debate and discussion in Islam has put us Muslims in a ridiculous position. It also puts a target on the backs on those who want change.
Reform has taken place in other faiths, as well. Christians will celebrate 500 years of their reform this year. How does reform happen? It takes place through reflection using reason and logic—and yes, a healthy critique. Without constructive criticism, no faith can grow and develop.
As a practising, observant Muslim, I don't believe I have to be the caretaker or defender of my faith. However, the word most synonymous with Muslims these days is “terrorism”. Do I want to leave this as a legacy for my children and grandchildren? Absolutely not. As such, Muslim communities have to do most of the heavy lifting in shunning or abandoning negative practices that have crept into our faith and culture, such as—as you have heard—female genital mutilation, forced and underage marriage, slavery, polygamy, armed violence against civilians disguised as jihad, forceful imposition of sharia laws, and the preaching of hate and intolerance towards minorities.
It's through this reform that major changes have already taken place in Muslim communities. We just heard yesterday that Saudi Arabia has allowed its women to drive. In India, the Supreme Court has banned a centuries-old Islamic tradition of a man saying, “I divorce you” thrice and divorce was automatically granted.
Women in Morocco have helped change the polygamy laws. In Tunisia, a landmark decision was made allowing Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men, which according to sharia laws is not acceptable. Bangladesh has altered its constitution from Islamic to secular, and the House of Lords in the United Kingdom is debating and challenging certain practices of the sharia courts.
My point is that Canada, with its thriving Muslim population, should be a leading voice in encouraging such reforms rather than encouraging them to hide behind a motion to curtail free speech. As well, in a secular country, which we hope to strive for, the state should have no business in religious matters.
M-103, as it stands, with usage of the term “Islamophobia” has divided Canadians into us and them. By singling out one faith community in this motion, it seems that Islam and Muslims are exclusive and demand special attention when in fact, statistics show us that hate crimes against the Jews, the black community, and the LGBTQ communities are the highest. Polls also show that more than 70% of Canadians don't agree with motion-103.
As for Muslims, let's see how badly they're really treated. There are over 100 mosques and 50 Islamic organizations just in the greater Toronto area, where I live. There are 11 Muslim MPs in our government and Muslim prayers are taking place in some public schools. This doesn't look like systemic racism to me. However, there are cases of bigotry and racism so I encourage this committee to strengthen the laws to curb hatred and discrimination against all Canadians, not just one section of Canadians.
Thank you, and I would like to thank you for your presentation. It was interesting, and I appreciated hearing your thoughts.
Reflecting on what we heard with the first panel and then again now, however, had me asking what we are doing. What are we doing with this study? What's the purpose? It got me thinking of looking back at Motion 103 and at the wording, in a kind of flipping back and forth.
As everyone here knows, it started as a private member's motion. It was brought by MP , who's the MP for Mississauga—Erin Mills. It was read and was debated in the House of Commons, and then it was agreed to on March 23 this year.
In fact, then, that motion has already been agreed to in the House of Commons, and no law was created as a result of it. The reason I'm picking on that piece is that you mentioned concerns about laws and free speech, which came up in the last panel. I want it to be clear that this motion was adopted and there was no legislation created at that point, because it was a motion. The result was, I believe, if I look at the wording, a recognition of “the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear”, a condemnation of “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination”, and an admonition that the government “take note of House of Commons' petition e-411 and the issues raised by it”.
That's what happened there. Then there was a request for this committee to do a study, which wasn't a requirement; it was a request.
I wanted, however, to flag the part, just because I've heard these concerns, about free speech and the impact of a condemnation of Islamophobia. In fact, though, the House of Commons had already passed a motion doing that in October of 2016 as well, which again led to no legislation, no curbing of free speech.
That had me taking a bit of a closer look at what we're doing today. Today we're sitting here in an independent parliamentary committee. It's made up of members of all of the recognized parties. You have here Liberal members, Conservative members, members from the NDP. We've all come together to do this study. We came together to agree to terms for the study. We came to talk together about how we would go about it—the process, the witnesses who would be called. Now we're working together, all members from all three parties, to gather evidence for the study that we're doing.
When the study is complete, we're going to be drafting a report, and that report can have recommendations. What we cannot do, however—and I want to make it clear, because there seems to be a misunderstanding that has come out—is legislate. This is an area in which we're not going to create any laws out of this committee. What we can do is create recommendations in a report, and once a majority of the committee has agreed to a final version of the report, we're going to table it in the House of Commons through the chair.
The tabling of that report will still not create any legislation. It's just going to be the tabling of a report showing what the findings were from our study. At that point, there may be a response from the government.
That brings me to here, today. I was interested in what you talked about—about laws preventing racism against all groups. That was one of your recommendations, and I'm going to pick up on it. As we examine witnesses and gather evidence for this study, I'm thankful for it.
I want to make sure that it's clear that the terms are that we:
...undertake a study on how the government could...develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making.
Then there's a second part about hate crimes data. That does involve eliminating systemic racism—there's no halt on that—and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia, but it isn't focused on one group.
This is just a preamble, to give a sense of what I came to when I was looking at this.
One of the really important pieces that we were presented with last week, and I thought it was really helpful to undergird where we're going to be going with the study, was the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination findings from the United Nations. They made a series of recommendations. I was going to put them to you as an idea of what we could adopt as as committee, because that's what we're looking for.
Thank you so much for the clarification.
I believe it's important to focus on the word “all”, and I would appreciate it if, included in all the recommendations, we had “all ethnic communities,” “all minorities,” and “all sorts of racism”. It is the focus on the word “Islamophobia” that has me concerned, because many of you may not be aware that Islamophobia is a word that was created after 9/11 to stem any kind of critique, discussion, or debate about Islam and Muslims.
My organization is at the forefront of fighting radical Jihadist ideology, so we have to talk about these issues. If Islamophobia comes into the terminology, already people are afraid to speak out. You said there have been no curbs on freedom of speech since the motion was passed. I'm afraid to tell you that there have been curbs on freedom of speech, because people are afraid to use the terms “Muslim” or “Islam”, even when asking a question like whether it was the radicals who did the bombing in London, England. They're afraid to speak out, because this motion has got them worried that they'll be called racist—
I want to make a point that it's actually a little distressing to see some of my colleagues here basically filibustering their time to keep our witness today from being able to answer questions, or having no interest in asking questions. I guess that hasn't been unusual in this debate. With so much of this issue, it seems they've been more interested in hearing their own voices than anyone else's.
I want to thank you for being here today, and I'm going to give you some opportunity to answer some questions.
You've talked about reform. It has been important to you. As it takes place, we want to avoid the excesses that have happened in other countries. You mentioned the sharia courts and practices, and some of the councils that have been set up. Some of us, outside of committee this week, had a chance to sit with Baroness Cox, and to talk with her. She has taken up the cause of young women, and you've taken up that cause as well.
Can you tell us a little bit about the consequences in young women's lives of the courts, how they developed, who manages them, and what we can do to avoid some of the problems in the future that other countries are facing on some of these issues?
Actually this ties very nicely into the next item that I want to bring to your attention and ask you a question on.
In the motion, it actually references a petition, petition e-411, which was brought to the House of Commons by way of a motion and it was supported unanimously. I think it's important actually to put this on the record because all this stuff needs to be put in context of what we're talking about. Petition e-411 actually says this:
Islam is a religion of over 1.5 billion people worldwide. Since its founding more than 1400 years ago, Muslims have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the positive development of human civilization. This encompasses all areas of human endeavors including the arts, culture, science, medicine, literature, and much more;
Recently an infinitesimally small number of extremist individuals have conducted terrorist activities while claiming to speak for the religion of Islam. Their actions have been used as a pretext for a notable rise of anti-Muslim sentiments in Canada; and
These violent individuals do not reflect in any way the values or the teachings of the religion of Islam. In fact, they misrepresent the religion. We categorically reject all their activities. They in no way represent the religion, the beliefs and the desire of Muslims to co-exist in peace with all peoples of the world.
We, the undersigned, Citizens and residents of Canada, call upon the House of Commons to join us in recognizing that extremist individuals do not represent the religion of Islam, and in condemning all forms of Islamophobia.
I want to tie all these pieces together, and you're absolutely right, where there is promotion of hate anywhere that is not I think the Canada we want to see.
To that end, in terms of a recommendation from the government, it was also suggested that we should separate out recommendations or actions from government on anti-racism as well as religious discrimination. Would you agree with that?
We are at the end of this session. We're going to go to another round of five minutes, and I have people's names on the list.
I just as the chair want to take the opportunity, because I was here when we agreed, as you heard from Ms. Dabrusin.... This motion from the House was not sent with an order of reference. In other words, it did not say that we have to do everything there.
On a motion, this committee could have said we're not going to study it because we are not bound to, but this committee, made up of three political parties—I just want to put it in context—agreed to do it. We sat down, we looked at what we were going to do, and we set up the terms of reference and the themes. Everyone around here agreed to those themes.
The themes were clearly based on religious discrimination and all forms of systemic racism. Those were what we were dealing with. Collecting data was another one we are dealing with.
Basically, I really would like to see that you understand what we're actually studying. We're not following the motion word for word. We have defined as a committee what we're going to study and how we're going to study it, and we're not having to slavishly follow anything in this motion. I just wanted to point that out. We decided as a committee of three different political parties, one of which did not vote for the motion in the House, but we all felt that there was a need to talk about this and that we needed to look at how we deal with it.
I want to point out one last piece of the motion that nobody has mentioned. It says, “the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” That means section 2, which is religious freedoms, and section 15, which is hate or discrimination against minorities, etc.
I think we set these terms and that they're clear. I don't know that we are discussing one thing, which seems to be a focus here. We're talking about all forms. We clearly set those terms of reference. I just want to put the terms of reference of what this committee is studying on the table, so that when you have questions later on you may put them into that context, that we're not slavishly following the motion that was passed. I wanted you to know that.
Public service messaging is a great idea. It happens in many countries. I've seen it in Europe and in the United Kingdom. This is public service messaging, in various languages, that speaks about tolerance and understanding and diversity.
We already have a thriving acceptance of diversity in this country. I am involved in travelling to educational institutions and law enforcement agencies to speak about diversity and the beauty of diversity, which is a very important component in educating the masses. I don't believe that Canadians at large really understand the difference between, let's say—I speak as a Muslim—Islam and a political ideology. It's important to have those conversations.
The media needs to play a more thriving role not just in upholding one faith community but in talking about issues of diversity. How do we interact with each other? How do we relate to each other? What are the challenges our youth are facing in educational institutions? Perhaps the government could stick their head in and see what is happening there. Are there youth of various ethnic backgrounds who are being targeted, and if so, why?
These are the places in which we begin. We begin with youth at a very young age, because that is where hate is taught. If hate is not taught, then they will grow up to be very tolerant and very accepting citizens of this country.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Canadian values need to be taught to new immigrants coming into the country. It's all part of a process, and it can be done at various levels and in various ways. I do it in a very small way, but if it's taken over by the government, they can have a very healthy dialogue.
I want to ask this question regarding the motion, M-103, as it's written, and whether this is a fundamental structural problem with the motion.
I won't read the whole thing, but the motion talks about “the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear”. That's a direct quote from one part of it. Elsewhere it talks about developing “a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination”.
It appears to me that two things are conflated. One is the random or individual acts of hatred, of racism, including the murderous racism and hatred we saw acted out in January in Quebec City. On the other hand, systemic racism, or institutional racism, is a concept that deals with things such as the differential treatment of, say, aboriginal prisoners in our penal system. They are, I would submit, two utterly different things, but they are conflated here, I think very unnaturally.
I'm giving you an editorial. Do you agree that this is a problem with this motion?