Heritage Committee - October 16 Meeting
The 77th meeting of the Heritage Committee was dedicated to Motion M-103 and its assertion that "systemic racism" and "religious discrimination" were rampant in Canada. The session featured the testimony of five individuals as summarized below.
Dr. Sherif Emil, Professor and Associate Chair, Department of Pediatric Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, Director, Pediatric General and Thoracic Surgery, Montreal Children's Hospital, began by stating that he represented no organization or advocacy group but was speaking on behalf of himself as a new Canadian citizen. He felt duty-bound as a citizen to make his views on Motion M-103 known. He went straight to the point regarding the use of the term "Islamophobia" by using the examples of Turkish President Erdogan and Egypt's al Ahzar University. In the former case, Erdogan called Germany and the Netherlands "Islamophobic" due to their reticence in allowing Turkish officials to lobby European Turks in favour of an upcoming referendum in Turkey. In the second case, al Ahzar University officials accused a learned Egyptian scholar of being "Islamophobic" for criticizing certain tenets of the religion of Islam and noting their impact on terrorism throughout the world. Indeed this commentator noted that many of the Islamic State's most horrific abuses, such as sex slavery and beheadings, came directly from the canonical texts of Islam. Dr. Emil asked the Committee members, "do you believe such activities merit the label Islamophobia"? He did so even as he noted that "Islamophobia" is behind all blasphemy laws that are being used in Muslim nations to jail and censure critics of Islam in these lands. Dr. Emil asked how the Committee would define Islamophobia and whether or not his presentation today would be considered "Islamophobic", in Canada, in the near future. He stated that a fear of Islam, as practiced in many Muslim nations today, is not irrational. He noted that he chose to give his testimony against the advice of his friends and colleagues who warned that it might result in harm to his career or his own self. Under questioning he stated that he didn't believe that "systemic racism" existed in Canada. He has lived in countries that do have "systemic racism" and he felt he would recognize it in Canada if he saw it. It was interesting to note that questions to Dr. Emil very often revolved around the concept of introducing national education programs to right the systemic racism paradigm.
Laurence Worthen, Executive Director, Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, gave his testimony next. He stated that his organization, as a group of faithful Christians, were concerned that any group might suffer from religious discrimination. He went on to cite an incredible scenario that featured a group that bore a protected Charter characteristic that had been discriminated against by both regulation and governmental design. This group was made up of those doctors who, by virtue of their religious beliefs, were being coerced into abetting euthanasia against their will and conscience. He wondered what would happen if another group bearing another protected Charter characteristic was treated in a fashion similar to these Christian medical practitioners. What would happen if blacks were discriminated against in such a fashion on the basis of the colour of it skin? Under questioning, he inferred that systemic discrimination did exist against Christian medical practitioners in Canada and offered that religious freedom needed to be just as "top of mind" as other protected characteristics that do receive adequate attention by the powers that be. It was interesting to note that questions directed at Mr. Worthen very often revolved around the advantages associated with instituting a "national plan" to defeat systemic racism and religious discrimination.
Farzana Hassan, Author and Columnist, stated that she is a Muslim woman who identifies as such. She objected to the wording and intent of Motion M-103. The term Islamophobia, she thinks, includes criticism of the ideology itself. Regarding the reason for rising anti-Muslim sentiment in Canada, she thought it was plain that the cause was the fact that the Muslim narrative is being controlled by fundamentalist voices seeking special accommodation for the religion of Islam and "political Islam". She did not understand why the House insisted on using a term such as "Islamophobia" when it has such Islamist undertones and suits an Islamist agenda. Under questioning, she said that she did not see the provision of a "Canadian" definition of the term Islamophobia that excluded protection of the ideology and doctrine of Islam as being a good idea. She thought so as the term has already assumed a wider acceptance in the international community that incorporated such protections.
Andrew P.W. Bennett, Senior Fellow of Cardus stated that genuine pluralism needed to be promoted in Canada. He thought that we too often raise barriers between communities and discrimination is the end result. He didn't think Islamophobia was a very useful term and thought it most certainly needed to be bounded by strict underpinnings that removed the doctrine and ideology of Islam from any protected status. He believed that Canadians needed to be able to say "I do not believe in Mohammad" or "I do not believe in Jesus" publicly if pluralism is to flourish in Canada. Under questioning, he worried that the promulgation of "national action plans" would not have the advantageous effect that some thought. He rather preferred governmental action in the form of getting communities together and allowing them to work at their local levels without disruption.
Budhendranauth Doobay, Chairman, Voice of Vedas Cultural Sabha, identified himself as a Hindu. He believed that Canada had travelled far in realizing a diverse and pluralistic society. He warned, however, that pushing too far, too fast might lead to intolerance itself - behavioural changes cannot be rushed. Change will require the involvement of all communities. He concluded by saying that he sees no evidence of discrimination against Hindus in Canada. Under questioning he suggested that the cause of fighting racism and discrimination would be aided by ensuring communities were not encouraged to "ghettoize" - they must be allowed to interact with the host nation so that they might better be able to communicate and share a common life.