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Heritage Committee - October 18 Meeting

The 78th meeting of the Canadian Heritage Committee was convened in Ottawa on 18 October, 2017 to discuss systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada. The deliberations involved testimony from six individuals and their testimony is summarized here.

Reuven Bulka, Congregation Machzikei Hadas as an individual, related a story from 12 years ago in Ottawa when the program "kindness Ottawa" was initiated to combat bullying in schools. The program was based on showing, rather than telling, people how to act and it worked well. He went on to state that this approach, one of respect and embrace, emphasized the positive and stood separate from initiatives that stress "tolerance". He thought this was an important distinction as he saw this latter approach as being more negative and forced. He then inferred that the government was in a position to use its "bully pulpit" to encourage communities to be inclusive, harmonious and embracing of each other. Under questioning, he stated that the clergy of each community had a powerful role to play in promoting harmony and understanding of the other. 

Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer, National Office, B'nai Brith Canada introduced his organization's history in Canada and noted the Committee had an opportunity to ameliorate the discrimination faced by a myriad of communities - including a Jewish community that has long suffered from anti-Semitism. In doing so, he noted that the Committee should not be seen to curry favour to any one particular group. Accordingly, the Committee needed to take great care in how it defined the term "Islamophobia" - if at all. He also noted that yearly B'nai Brith audits have determined that anti-Semitism has been on the rise over the past five years. Indeed, Jews have been the most targeted group for hate crimes in each of the past nine years from the latest StatsCan reports. Of critical importance is the fact that the perpetrators of such crimes have changed from the far right in the 80's and 90's to Muslims in recent times who, sometimes, cite Islamic doctrine as justifying their acts. This is of concern not just to leaders in the Jewish community but to those in the Muslim community as well. Given such conditions, there is a concern that M-103 paints Muslims as victims only without taking into consideration the source of such crimes. Indeed, it appears that such instances are not being punished as could be reasonably expected. The Committee is in a position to counter such trends by laying out the facts and providing the message to law enforcement that they "must enforce the law". 

David Matas, Senior Legal Counsel, National Office, B'nai Brith Canada stated that M-103 mentioned only Islamophobia by name. He went on to state that fear of Islam, in some instances, is not irrational - take ISIS and al Qaeda as examples. Defeating the threat posed by hatred and violence emanating from portions of the Islamic community might be promoted by the Committee through the formation of related criteria. This guidance could be used to determine whether or not actions aimed at opposing such perceived instances could be considered to be "Islamophobic". After all, at the end of the day it was only reasonable to study both sides of the victim-perpetrator coin.

Shimon Fogel, Chief Executive Officer, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs led off by characterizing Canada as one of the most respectful nations on the face of the earth. He went on to note that the Jewish community has long been the most targeted when it comes to hate crimes. In 2015, for instance, there were 54 cases per population of 100,00 Jews while Muslims were second with 15 per population of 100,000 Muslims. Statistics, however, needed to be seen in context as the numbers involved are extremely small given the total populations involved and the related percentages currently being quoted are subject to wide swings with small increases or decreases either way. He therefore suggested that the quality of related data needed to be improved as it varies widely from police department to police department - regulations and guidelines were needed across the board regards the standardization, collection and handling of such information. In addition, "hate" needs to be defined in a manner similar to the process that was undertaken to shed light on the term "anti-Semistism". In such a fashion, a faith practitioner may be protected from discrimination on the basis of his religion even as the related ideology is open to criticism in the public square. In closing, he suggested that police departments and prosecutors were in need of hate related educational programs and would benefit from the establishment of dedicated hate crime units within their jurisdictions.

Tamara Thomas, Policy Researcher and Analyst, African Canadian Legal Clinic expressed full support for the M-103 initiative on behalf of her organization.. She went on to highlight the increasing occurrence of hate crimes against Canada's Black community through recent reports and related statistics. She stated that Canada had a history of slavery and segregation of the African descendant community and that this pervasive attitude persists to the present day. The solution, she believed, lied in a nation-wide data collection program inputted by the effected communities themselves. As well, systemic racism needed to be studied to see how it effected individual communities with a mind to effecting remedial measures - such measures to include employment equity programs. Under questioning, she registered her disappointment with the retraction of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Code as she saw its provisions affording individuals protection from hate speech spread through the Internet.

Sikander Hashmi, Spokesperson, Canadian Council of Imams, highlighted the fact that Muslims were very happy to enjoy the benefits of living in Canada but that the government had an obligation to ensure the safety of minorities against the "tyranny" of the majority. He worried that Canadian Muslim women were particularly being impacted by an increasing number of attacks and that fear in the community was on the rise. As a form of systemic discrimination, he cited the example of Muslim children being forced to choose between prayer and school as some protested the use of public education facilities for such purposes during regular school hours. He believed that authorities lent too much credence to those terrorists that used Islamic teachings to justify their acts and that these criminals should not be listened to - ignoring them would take away the oxygen that feeds their fire. He also recommended that Canadians stop thinking of Canadian Muslims as they would those in other nations. Canada is unique and the context is different. He tabled a six point program to stem the rising tide of systemic racism and religious discrimination which included regularized educational programs that put minority communities in a favourable light. Under questioning, he agreed with MP Reid that the Koran did not teach Muslims to be hateful of Jews.

The audio transcript of these proceedings can be heard here:

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