Heritage Committee - October 30 Meeting
The 81st meeting of the Canadian Heritage Committee was dedicated to the M-103 study of systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada. It was held on 30 October, 2017 and its proceedings are summarized here.
Shahen Mirakian, President (by videoconference: Toronto, Ontario), Armenian National Committee of Canada, began the testimonies by stressing the importance of advocacy groups in advancing the cause of combating racism and discrimination. By way of example, he cited the Armenian earthquake of 1998 and how the Armenian National Committee of Canada sprung into action to collect desperately needed supplies and financial support. It did so by coordinating support from government, commercial and private citizen inputs and set a disaster relief framework in place that is in use today. He noted that other advocacy and faith groups had pioneered such strategies in the past with their communities of concern and have all had positive impacts on both the communities served and Canada. In a similar fashion, these advocacy groups are in a position to help with the fight against racism and discrimination as they are aware of policies, rules and regulations that contribute to both. He recommended that Members of Parliament be used as an advocacy group asset by acting as touchstones that coordinate and bring these groups together. He also recommended that some funding currently directed to aiding inter-cultural dialogue be re-directed to build up the capacity of smaller advocacy groups so that they are better able to enter into meaningful dialogue.
Robert Kuhn, President, Trinity Western University stated that Trinity Western University was the largest faith-based university in the country with more than 4000 students. He noted that the university has maintained an A+ quality status for seven years running and 65% of its students are involved in community service and outreach programs. He suggested that the Committee might be surprised that such a successful organization would be subjected to discrimination and exclusion by virtue of the Christian values that reside at its core. He went on to discuss examples of such religious discrimination including the decision of multiple law societies to restrict its graduates from serving within their jurisdictions. This, in direct opposition to Supreme Court decisions (2001) that demand that no religious viewpoint be the source of restricting an individual's ability to participate fully in society. He recommended that the government take on a "duty to consult" religious communities before it creates anti racism and discrimination policies and that such policies should incorporate "accommodation" as a prime outcome. Lastly, he recommended the creation of an ombudsman position to mediate between the government and faith-based communities. In closing, he said that Trinity Western is an example of religious and systemic discrimination in Canada. The situation is getting worse and it shouldn't be. This is not the open and inclusive Canada that used to be.
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, stated that the unintended consequences of M-103 need to be considered. Concentrating on "Islamophobia", for example, is a move in the wrong direction and will result in more, not less, divisiveness. The Muslim community should not be coddled but, rather, treated as is every other community on the national landscape - this approach best ensures harmony. His organization believes in the separation of mosque and state and that the best way to defeat radical Islamism is to defeat the ideology that thrives within Islamic regimes. In these regimes and like-minded organizations, including those allied to the author of M-103, Islamophobia is used as a weapon to restrict free speech. He felt that the prime victim in using Islamophobia as an evil to be defeated would be Muslims themselves as they would be afraid to pursue the reforms that Islam is in need of. He went on to state that the founding premises of M-103, as established in petition E-411, actually smack of the language and logic posited by the Islamic theocracies that are currently creating so much havoc in the world. He recommended that western governments stop the "Countering Violent Extremism" strategy and replace it with one that "counters Violent Islamism". Along these same lines, he suggested the government needs to stop taking the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Muslim Brotherhood groups as allies and begin communicating with, and empowering, reform groups that seek to break Islam from the fossilized grasp of jihadism and salafism. Mr. Jasser was questioned aggressively by MP Virani who noted that Mr. Jasser mentioned Raheel Raza as an ally and that she was affiliated with the "Rebel" media. He left Mr. Jasser with no time to answer. MP Anderson upbraided MP Virani on his treatment of the witness and Mr. Jasser concluded by observing that MP Virani was, in effect, discriminating against him on the basis of association.
Muainudin Ahmed, Director, Muslim Food Bank and Community Services Society, noted that his organization interfaced daily with religious minorities and was well aware of the discrimination they face - particularly Muslim women wearing the hijab. The number one recommendation that he thought would make a difference in countering such discrimination was the re-direction of government funds to community organizations.
Azim Dahya, Chief Executive Officer, Muslim Food Bank and Community Services Society, was available for questioning but did not testify.
Balpreet Singh, Legal Counsel (by videoconference: Mississauga, Ontario), World Sikh Organization of Canada, stated that his organization supported M-103 and the notion that Islamophobia was discriminatory and needed to be countered. He noted that those in the Sikh community were the object of discrimination on a regular basis. He believed that secularism was required to ensure no one religion would be placed above all others but he also noted that all religions need equal space in the public square. He believed statistics and data would be important in identifying the scope of the problem and what needed to be done.