Heritage Committee - October 25 Meeting
The 80th meeting of the Canadian Heritage Committee addressed Motion M-103's direction to study systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada. A summary of the testimonies provided during the session is provided below. Of particular interest is the Canadian Labour Congress position, as stated by its Executive Vice-President, that Islamophobia could be taken to mean being against Islam. This startling position could be seen as promoting the shielding of the religion of Islam from criticism in the public square.
Mr. Pouyan Tabasinejad, Policy Chair, Iranian Canadian Congress, began by stating that his organization is seized with securing the rights and betterment of the Iranian-Canadian community in Canada. He spoke of a recent survey of 600 Iranian-Canadians that indicated the majority had experienced discrimination in Canada including employment discrimination and special handling at airport security checkpoints. Additionally, he stated that a significant minority (77) believed that this discrimination was due to uncomplimentary messaging emanating from Canadian media and officials regards the Government of Iran. By way of evidence, he referred to a case of an Iranian-Canadian cab driver being verbally abused by his customer and President Trump's immigration ban. In the latter case, he proposed that it is Canada's responsibility to intercede against American authorities to smooth Iranian-Canadian travel concerns. He moved on to complain about Canadian sanctions against the Republic of Iran and noted that they adversely impacted the economic prospects of his community. More than this, Canadian-American arms treaty requirements discriminated against Iranian-Canadian engineers as their employment on sensitive technological initiatives, along with travel to the U.S., were restricted. Under questioning from MP Jenny Kwan, he agreed that a "national strategy" aimed at addressing racism and discrimination through equity programs was a good idea. Under questioning from MP Anderson on why the Iranian Canadian Congress did not speak out more about the human rights violations of Iran against its own people, he stated that his organization did not stress cases germane to the Iranian experience but to those of based in Canadian jurisdictions. MP Anderson noted that the witness had, during his testimony on several occasions, stated that Iranian policies and actions were not perfect but were no worse than those of other nations. In closing off this session, it was noted by Chair Fry that the deadline for submissions to the Committee was 10 November, 2017.
Ms. Soudeh Ghasemi, Vice-President, Iranian Canadian Congress, made recommendations aimed at pushing back on racism and discrimination in Canada. The first three recommendations were an overhaul of the criminal code regarding hate crimes and speech, the institution of "hotlines" to facilitate a complaint process for Iranian-Canadians being discriminated against and the modification of sections of Bill C-51 to restore protections for religious sites and places of worship. In closing, she recommended that Canada take into consideration the impact of its foreign policies on Canadians originating from related regimes. In short, foreign policy needs to be sensitive to adverse impacts on these dual-nationality communities. Under questioning from MP Jenny Kwan, she stated that reporting of hate crimes suffered from a lack of dedicated "hotlines" as reports to the police went nowhere if direct threats were not involved. MP Kwan suggested that NGOs could be approached to provide such "hotline" venues and this was seen by the witnesses as a lesser effective option than the one of dedicated "hotlines".
Frank Huang, National Secretary-General (by videoconference: Richmond, British Columbia), National Congress of Chinese Canadians was not available to give testimony.
Larry Rousseau, Executive Vice-President, Canadian Labour Congress, began by stating that his Congress was the largest labour organization in Canada with over three million members. He went on to note that Quebec Bill C-62 was discriminatory in that it directed the dress of women and had no place in this country. He stated as fact that impoverishment, lack of employment opportunity and even the killing of blacks was due to racism and discrimination. He proposed a number of recommendations to mitigate the Canadian situation including the re-instalment of Canada's action plan against racism, the repeal of the Barbaric Practices Act, re-instatement of the federal employment equity act and introducing pro-active, gender-based pay equity policies. Under questioning, he suggested that anyone who was against Islam was Islamophobic. He further suggested that we should stay away from trying to define terms - leave the term Islamophobia as loose as possible and prosecute everything. He believed that the onus of what was right or wrong should be left up to the perceptions of the victim.
Elizabeth Kwan, Senior Researcher, Canadian Labour Congress stated that the Congress did much work to aid all of the communities it represented.
Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada began by recognizing they were in unceded Algonquin property. She wondered how we could learn from mistakes made in the residential school program to make things better for First Nations children in the future. She proposed that this could be done by costing out all of the inequities that these children face in Canada compared to their non-aboriginal counterparts and applying related funds in a "Marshall Plan" fashion to ensure more equitable outcomes. This program was called "Spirit Bear". As for cost, she asked why it was permissible to fund arenas or subways with money freed up by racist policies and wondered "what does this country stand for". She further proposed a reconciliation program that told the truth about aboriginal history within the political project that is Canada. Under questioning from MP Kenny Kwan, she stated there was no acceptable level of racial discrimination against children and that underfunding of these children was part and parcel of that discrimination.