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Heritage Committee - October 23 Meeting

The 79th meeting of the Heritage Committee was held on 23 October, 2017 to discuss Motion M-103 regards systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada. A summary of the related testimony is provided below.

Serah Gazali, Community Member, Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House, started by stating that a group of individuals identifying as belonging to a variety of visible minorities initiated a round table discussion and developed a list of recommendations to fight systemic racism. She stated that these efforts were spurred by inputs from NDP MP Jenny Kwan. Prime among these recommendations was the development of a national strategy designed to promote intercultural understanding through educational and training programs - especially for judges, lawyers and law enforcement officials. The federal government, in concert with their provincial counterparts, needed to make such training mandatory for teachers and professors and provide the required funding. It was felt that educational programs needed to stress the colonial nature of Canadian history. In closing, she noted the dire need to review national symbols that spoke to discrimination, genocide and colonialism in Canada. When asked if she could prioritize the funding calls her group made in its submission she simply stated that all funding was required to ensure an egalitarian system. She also answered that Islamophobic acts, however defined, needed to be criminalized and that affirmative action policies needed to be employed to address longstanding inequalities. MP Reid pointed out the need to provide some sort of perspective when dealing with the erasure of Canadian symbols and leaders as such a program would likely leave the country with little or no history to celebrate. MP Anderson closed the session by asking for clarification on whether or not MP Jenny Kwan had initiated the Frog Hollow "round table" initiative.

Narges Samimi, Community Member, Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House, continued in concert with her partner Ms. Ghazali by calling for tighter definitions of both hate speech and Islamophobia. She also called for additional funding for those adversely impacted by racism and discrimination - particularly women of colour. On questioning, she stated that she had been discriminated in the workplace by virtue of her wearing a hijab. When asked whether she asked her employer why she could not wear the hijab on the job she stated that she did not. She simply related that she was in shock and told her employer that it was her right to wear the hijab. She then left her position and was unable to land another because, she thought, of her need to wear a hijab. Upon prompting from MP Jenny Kwan, she agreed wholeheartedly that a national strategy was required to address discrimination and racism.

Balpreet Singh, Legal Counsel (by videoconference: Mississauga, Ontario), World Sikh Organization of Canada was scheduled to speak but did not appear for his testimony.

Idris El-Bakri, Past President (by videoconference: Winnipeg, Manitoba), Manitoba Islamic Association, noted that most of Manitoba's 20,000 Muslims resided in Winnipeg. He cited StatsCan reports that noted an increase in hate crimes against Muslims in Canada. He went on to highlight several specific examples of discriminatory acts including those that spoke badly of Islam. He was very concerned by "fringe racists" who were trying to join the national conversation on immigration. 


Osaed Khan, President (by videoconference: Winnipeg, Manitoba), Manitoba Islamic Association stated that Manitobans were, by-and-large, very supportive of the Muslim community and even rallied to counter-protest those groups speaking out against immigration policies. Under direct questioning by the Chair, MP Fry, he responded to her request to itemize elements of a national strategy to defeat racism and discrimination by stating that children needed to be educated as a first priority.

Mansoor Pirzada, President, Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, noted there were over 2,000 Muslims in Newfoundland and Labrador. He spoke very well of the welcoming citizens of this hospitable Province. Interestingly, he stated that his mosque was the only mosque in North America where both Sunni and Shia Muslims worshiped together. The only Islamophobia he was aware of was some hate speech on on virtual media but he did note a recent increase in incidents. He went on to state that statistics prove Canadian Muslims suffer more unemployment and poverty than Muslims in other Western nations and that this was indicative of Islamophobia. Under questioning, he noted that newer refugees, mostly from the recent Syrian wave, have had more difficulties than Muslims that have been in place longer.  

Ayse Akinturk, Executive Committee Member, Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, under questioning, stated that service providers needed to be educated on how to deal with cultural minorities. This education needs to be a mandated and funded as a government program.

Haseen Khan, Executive Committee Member and Treasurer, Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, stated there were problems for professional Muslims to have their foreign-based credentials recognized in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The audio transcript of these proceedings can be heard here:

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