Heritage Committee - November 1 Meeting
The 82nd meeting of the Heritage Committee was held on 01 November, 2017. Of particular note was the testimony of Barbara Landau, from the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims, as she highlighted profound differences in approaches to the subject matter at hand by various Canadian Jewish organizations. A summary of all testimony follows here.
Don Hutchinson, author, as an individual, stated that he would set aside the use of the term Islamophobia except to say that Committee findings should be directed to all communities in Canada, not just one. He noted that freedom of religion was touched upon in several sections of the Charter including sections 2 (fundamental rights), section 15 (equality rights) and section 27 (responsibility to accommodate multicultural communities). In short, Canadians are free to worship, practice, teach and manifest their religion as they see fit without discrimination or reprisal as long as good order, the rights of others and morals are not adversely impacted. He went on to highlight several recommendations including; leaving all religions and their doctrines open to review, fair comment and criticism, having parliamentarians engage with religious and non-religious minorities to better understand their beliefs and concerns, retaining criminal code provisions regards hate propaganda and hate-related destruction of religious property, holding a First Minister's conference dedicated to religious freedom, re-establishing the Office of Religious Freedom and educating Canadians on the their country's tradition and legislative history regards religious rights. Under questioning by MP Anderson, he stated that the expression Islamophobia was problematic as it meant different things to different people and had been misused. He also stated that the Office of Religious Freedom needed to be re-established as the religious realities of the world needed to be better understood by Canadian officials and agencies.
Cecil Roach, Coordinating Superintendent of Education, Equity and Community Services, York Region District School Board, began by noting that he was not speaking on behalf of his Board but on behalf of himself. He reminded the Committee that it was necessary to remember the colonial history of Canada that underpins the current situation and, at one point, tried to take the Indian out of the Indian. He raised some personal examples of racism against Black Canadians including one in which a colleague noted that Blacks would not be in so much trouble if their mothers refrained from having numerous children with multiple fathers that left their children without a fatherly influence.. Rather than this, he believed that systemic racism was responsible for the stunted progress that Black children made in school and in life. He did not, however, identify specific, systemic barriers that were responsible for these outcomes. Regardless, he stated that deliberate actions were required to defeat systemic racism in Canada. As for "Islamophobia", it was real because Muslim children were, by his own account, being bullied at school. In closing, he recommended that the federal government initiate a national educational program that did not relent until the indigenous student drop-out rate was the same as that of white students. Under questioning, he stated that "naming and shaming" of those who do not hold non-oppressive views, such as white supremacists, was a worthwhile initiative for the government to pursue.
Barbara Landau, Co-chair, Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims, began by praising progressive Jewish communities for banding with Muslim congregations on the heels of the Quebec mosque attack. She lambasted, however, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) for taking the opportunity to draw attention to anti-Jewish hate speech propagated by a Muslim guest speaker in a Canadian mosque. She went on to state that CIJA again roiled the peace when it complained about a temporary Imam at a Toronto mosque who led prayers against persons of the Jewish faith. In her mind, these activities were counterproductive as they fanned the flames of fear in both communities. As for the term Islamophobia, each group should have the ability to label and define its own terms out of respect for that community. As for Quebec Bill C-62, the threat to the freedoms of face-covering women in Quebec by this Bill were more present than any adverse impact on the province itself. Under questioning, she stated she would like to see the establishment of a multicultural funding stream to promote inter-community dialogue. She also wanted to see a confidential reporting system that collected victim-originated data and promoted the speedy punishment of those who "crossed the line".
Shahid Akhtar, Co-Chair, Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims related that his organization was the first of its type in Canada. The first to combine both the Jewish and Muslim communities in combating racism and religious discrimination. He hoped that the Committee would take the message back to appropriate authorities that the ethnic cleansing being carried out in Myanmar on the Rohyinga community needed to stop. If not, the penalty of removing the honorary citizenship afforded to its current leader should be imposed. He also railed against Quebec Bill C-62 which discriminated against Quebec women by forcing them to uncover themselves for the purposes of providing services in that province. In closing, he suggested that Canada should use its political capital on the international stage to call for the convening of a meeting between Israel and all Muslim nations in the region to promote better communications between the parties. Under questioning, he stated that anti-semitism and Islamophobia were the same thing, just different sides of the same coin. No need to get technical about definitions but more important to address the suffering involved regardless of the term used to describe it.
Perry Bellegarde, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations, thanked the Algonquin nation for the land that deliberations were taking place on. He noted that his people do not see people in terms of colour but categorizes all in terms of being "two-legged" beings. If only all peoples had this same perspective there would be no strife among nations. By way of systemic racism, he noted the differential treatment of indigenous peoples by police services and the frozen nature of indigenous rights in section 35 of the Charter. He felt that one of the most important ways of reconciling these differences was to implement the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples... He also desired to see more indigenous people on important agencies and boards. Under questioning he stated he would like to see new Canadians welcomed with a "smudging" ceremony as they took the oath of citizenship.
The audio transcript of these proceedings can be heard here: