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Heritage Committee - November 6 Meeting

The  84th meeting of the Heritage Committee was convened under the Chairmanship of MP Peter Van Loan to discuss "systemic racism and religious discrimination" in Canada. Of particular note was the part the Governor General's speech from last week played during the deliberations. Her stated preferences for secular scientism over religious belief systems was seen as worrisome and working against the effort to diminish system racism and religious discrimination. This, taken in conjunction with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada observation that Christian students suffer discrimination at the hands of provincial bodies, seems to indicate that governmental agencies and policies have a part to play in the "systemic" nature of racism and discrimination in Canada. A summary of the proceedings follows.

Bruce Clemenger, President, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada began by stating that his organization was founded in 1964 and now gives constructive voice to some 4,000,000 evangelicals across the country. He noted that the Committee's work was important as recent trends see a marginalization of religious thoughts and ideas as they are being pushed out of the public square by a mounting secularism. This phenomena leads to discrimination as religious points of view become misunderstood and the subject of derision. Such can be seen to be the case with the mounting tide of hate crimes against the Muslim population. He also noted that the government's residual power and influence make it a critical factor in determining how patterns of discrimination either grow or dissipate. Under questioning from MP Vandal on why he thought the public reacted so negatively to M-103, he stated that the motion "picked at scabs" and seemed to try to afford more protections to Islam than other religions. He did not mention experiences in other Western jurisdictions that have suffered constraints on free speech rights as a direct result of fighting "Islamophobia". Under questioning from MP Anderson, he stated that the Governor General's speech last week was quite disturbing as she effectively marginalized the faith beliefs of many Canadians. As an office holder, he felt she should set a more inclusive example when speaking on behalf of all the Canadians she is charged with representing. Indeed, office holders can be seen as contributing to "systemic racism" when they express secular preferences over religious belief systems. 

Julia Beazley, Director, Public Policy, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, carried on from Mr. Clement by submitting recommendations that had the potential to positively impact racism and religious discrimination. The first was to study each of these factors  independently as they were quite different in their makeup and the communities that they effected. The second was to raise freedom of religion as the fundamental freedom that it was meant to be independent of any "human rights" considerations. Thirdly, she asked that government resist the pressure to penalize or marginalize those who practise beliefs out of step with common norms and perceptions. Here she specifically mentioned the marginalization of Trinity Western University students regards employment opportunities in various labour organizations and professional colleges. Fourthly she requested that faith groups be allowed to bring their religious perspectives to the public square for debate and comment. Along these lines she suggested that the government should go directly to faith groups to engage their opinions and develop a forum charged with making such coordination a reality. Other recommendations included the commitment of a "whole of government" approach to the preservation and safeguarding of freedom of speech. Here the term Islamophobia was entertained as one that risked the protection of faith ideas rather than the faith practitioner and this was not what freedom of speech was intended to shield. Finally, it was recommended to standardize the reporting, collection, distribution and analysis of hate crime data.

Frank Huang, National Secretary-General, National Congress of Chinese Canadians, stated he was proud to be a Canadian and cherished his ability to speak his mind and join in public discourse. He conducted his testimony in Mandarin. He believed that the root cause of much discrimination was a lack of understanding of one group by the other. He admitted that, in the Chinese community, there was deeply held, implicit discrimination against other races. These feelings, however, dissipate once individuals engage members of these groups and get to know them. Accordingly, he proposed a new Ministry of Multiculturalism whose task it would be to bring communities together in mutual understanding. Additionally, provincial and municipal governments should cull their rules and regulations with a mind to casting aside those that were discriminatory even as hotlines were established to report such anomalies. Finally, social media needed to be controlled and real time corrections made to false or misleading statements that confound harmonious relationships between Canadian communities.

Ali Rizvi, Author, as an individual, desired to point out differences of opinion that he had with M-103. He noted that a rising tide of hate crimes against Muslims was taking place within a backdrop of worldwide jihadist attacks with young men screaming Allahu Akbar as they committed their crimes. These fears, he believed, were exacerbated by far and midstream "right" leaders who used the opportunity to rail against Islam as a whole. He suggested that the motion had a part to play in Canadian discourse but lacked the support it needed to make it truly effective. He posited that a small "tweak" in the motion could correct this situation. Before he stipulated his "tweak", however, he stated their was a "flip side" to M-103 in that he, as an atheist and apostate from Islam, was under constant threat by those Muslims back in his home country who would kill him and his family for their apostasy if they had the chance. These threats were real and based on Islamic doctrine that supported their intentions. Such interpretations needed to be challenged but the problem, he asserted, lie in the fact that the term Islamophobia conflated criticism of Islam with discrimination against individual Muslims. This is wrong and the conflation has the potential to do great harm to free speech. He noted that organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood cleverly take advantage of the confusion raised to curtail fair comment on the subject of Islam. His proposal, therefore, was to replace the term Islamophobia with "anti-Muslim bigotry". Under questioning from MP Reid, he noted that the wearing of the hijab in Canada might very well be a personal decision but in a majority Muslim country it was mandatory and forced on women

David Zackrias, Head, Diversity and Race Relations, Ottawa Police Service, stated that Muslim women were afraid of being mowed down like the victims of the Quebec mosque attack. How are we allowing this to happen? He went on to cite examples of how his skin colour resulted in discriminatory actions against himself. He hoped for a Canada that was inclusive and devoid of hate and that Canada would be seen as a peacemaker once again. Under questioning from MP Jenny Kwan, he agreed that the establishment of "hotlines" to allow victims to circumvent police services in the reporting of hate crimes had its merits. He did believe, however, that the police had to be involved in the reporting chain somehow to better ensure security.

The audio transcript of these proceedings can be heard here:

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