Mr. Speaker, I rise today to comment on the recently released report of the Ethics Commissioner. My intention is not to comment on his conclusion and recommendations, but rather to help put the situation in context.
The past many months have been difficult, to say the least, for me and my family. They have indeed been a struggle, and I am grateful to family, friends, colleagues and individual Canadians who have supported me through this ordeal.
I would like to thank the thousands of supporters who have believed in me and encouraged me to stay strong. I would also like to thank the various multi-faith groups and ecumenical groups that I have worked with, the constituents of Don Valley East and the numerous well-wishers for their support. As well, I would like to thank the senators and MPs who have stood by me and guided me.
As I read through the report, something very obvious jumped out at me. It gave me reason to pause. With the encouragement of many Muslim scholars and ecumenical friends, I have decided to speak in the House.
The Ethics Commissioner's report states, “Ms. Khatri was not considered a family member for the purposes of the Code.” He says the evidence gathered is that “Ms. Khatri is in fact her foster sister", and that Ms. Khatri is neither my biological nor adopted sister.
He further goes on to state:
Ms. Ratansi did not appear to have furthered her own private interests or those of a member of her family since the Code does not include siblings in its definition of “family members.”
She submits that the documentary evidence provided shows that there is no legal bond between her and Ms. Khatri, including for the purposes of the By-law...[and the] relationship falls outside the applicable definitions in the Code and the By-law as presently worded.
Further on he states that the code is ambiguous and that “as a principle of natural justice, the applicable provisions should be given their narrow meaning.” He also states:
...if the provisions defining ‘immediate family’ are not clear and unequivocal, then any ambiguity should be resolved in favour of the person who is the subject of the inquiry.
I accept Ms. Ratansi’s...claim, as well as her argument that Ms. Khatri, as her foster sister, may not legally be considered as her sister or, by the same token, qualify as a member of her “immediate family” within the meaning of the By-law.
However, since I refer to Ms. Khatri as a sister in keeping with Islamic cultural practices and my father's personal wishes, he concludes that, despite all evidence to the contrary, she is a sister.
Many Muslim scholars, my interfaith community and members of the Muslim community have called me and asked me to provide some reference to Islamic practices.
What does Islam teach about the treatment of orphans?
Calling someone a “brother” or “sister” is a dignified way of referring to other Muslims who are not related, especially when dealing with orphans. My moral and ethical conduct is underpinned by these Islamic values and practices, and as such, I believe that when we house an orphan or a guest of any denomination, that human being is accorded the same dignity and treatment as that of a brother or sister and is addressed as such. This is particularly important in the case of orphans. It maintains their dignity and avoids social taboos.
Anyone who has interacted with Muslims knows that one is referred to as a sister or a brother as part of Islamic ethos. Therefore, my supporters felt that, within the current context of Islamophobia and a misunderstanding of Islam, I should provide some insight into Islamic norms.
The community members have also proposed that decision-makers at different levels of Parliament be sensitized to the culture, traditions and ethos of Islam, which, as an Abrahamic faith, is not well understood. I hope the information I impart will enable people to make informed decisions in the future.
To help understand how important it was for my father to inculcate the Islamic ethos, I will quote some Hadiths, or sayings, of the holy Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. He said, “The best house among the Muslims is one which contains an orphan who is well treated. The worst house among the Muslims is one which contains an orphan who is badly treated.”
The prophet goes on to say, “One who looks after the orphan, whether he is his relative or not, he and I would be together in paradise like this”, and he brought his index finger and middle fingers together.
I found similar sentiments being expressed in the Old Testament and the New Testament saying that God has mandated that caring for the orphan be an important act of charity and a holy duty.
In Islam, an orphaned child has a very important place. There are multiple verses of the noble Quran where the almighty Allah talks about treating orphans. One has to look at chapter 2, Surah Al-Baqarah; chapter 4, Surah An-Nisa; and chapter 17, Surah Al-Isra, where Allah enjoins upon believers to be kind to the orphan and look after them as their own children, to be a merciful father toward the orphan, and to be good to orphans and never treat them harshly.
In societies in which the values of the Quran are not observed, this concept may be foreign. It is therefore important to appreciate how Muslims view the treatment of orphans. Believers take the issue of the treatment of orphans very seriously as Allah prohibits subjecting orphans to harsh treatment and condemns those who mistreat them.
My late father instilled in us these very important Islamic values, including treating every human being as a brother or sister in faith or in humanity, showing compassion, always maintaining the dignity of another human being, and ensuring that we strive to improve the situation in life of orphans and bring them up as decent individuals. This is who I am. I will not demean anyone's dignity.
Calling Ms. Khatri a sister is a privilege that I cherish and that Islam has taught me. I would never give these Islamic principles up, no matter the misinformation, the slander and the media circus. Despite Ms. Khatri's agreeing to provide the Ethics Commissioner with proof of her relationship to me, I would like to personally apologize to her for the indignity this particular incident has caused her.
As for those who slander, there are many verses in the Quran and in all Abrahamic traditions that say that, for those who slander and throw ridicule, God will throw it back to them.
A further lesson provided is that of the eagle and raven. The raven is the only bird that dares to peck at the eagle's neck. However, the eagle does not react. It does not fight back. It does not spend time and energy with the raven. Instead, it opens up its wings and begins to fly higher in the sky. The higher the flight, the harder it is for the raven to breathe, and the raven eventually falls to the ground due to lack of oxygen.
We as parliamentarians face many ravens, internal and external. As we try to do our jobs to better the lives of our constituents and Canadians, let us be like the eagles and fly high and avoid the temptation of the slanderous ravens. I encourage members to stop wasting time with the ravens. Just take them to our height, and they will fade away. I have personally taken this advice very seriously. As I continue to serve my constituents, I know that the ravens will lose oxygen and fade away.
My sincere hope is that this short exposé to Islamic practices and cultures will enable us to be better parliamentarians and put our words into practice. We as Canadians claim diversity is our strength, but when faced with diversity, we have yet to learn how to incorporate it into our decision-making process. I hope that my speaking here today may in some small way contribute to changing this, and, in the future, that if anyone is ever in the same position as I was, they will be judged differently.