Heritage Committee - September 27 Meeting
The 74th Meeting of the Heritage Committee studied "systemic racism" and "religious discrimination" in Canada. It was somewhat unusual as all four witnesses were against Motion M-103. The witnesses and a summary of their testimony follows:
Raymond J. de Souza, as an individual, started by stating that focusing on one specific religion would be unwise and that governments should encourage critical theological exchange, not impede it. This exchange is possible in Canada given our freedoms and tolerance and Islamophobia, however it is understood, should not be allowed to thwart these attributes. In reponse to questioning, Mr de Souza recognized "secular fundamentalism" as capable of driving religious views and inputs from the public square under the premise that such views were "tainted".
Peter Bhatti, Chairman, International Christian Voice, began by noting his brother was murdered in Pakistan for daring to protect Christian lives. He was very concerned over the vagueness surrounding the term Islamophobia. He stated that this uncertainty was creating anxiety in his Pakistani Christian community across Canada. They fear that the suffocation and oppression they escaped in Pakistan, by virtue of Islamic blasphemy laws, will create the same conditions in Canada. Mr. Bhati pointed to the British condition where Sharia Law is now the governing force in many large British cities replacing Common Law. In response to questioning, Mr Bhati suggested there was enough protection in the Constitution and devolved laws to deal with racism and discrimination.
Jay Cameron, Barrister and Solicitor for Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, mentioned previous testimony that called for the suppression of "trash radio". This suggestion was not applicable in the Canadian context as, in Canada, citizens decide what is "trash", not the government. Additionally, the Motion's use of the term "quell" should never have gotten past the House as it is the language of riots, not expression. He went on to ask if it is irrational for Canadians to fear immigration from territories that are known to be rife with violence and political instability? Where does one draw the line between irrational and rational fear of Islam? Mr Cameron challenged the Committee directly and asked if it was Islamophobic to condemn the practice of FGM. In response to questioning, Mr Cameron stated that the government can't compel people to love or hate they can only uphold their constitutional freedoms. MP Varani, in further questioning, took him to task with five rapid-fire questions with little time remaining. A disagreement then broke out on a point of order as Conservative members of the Committee asked the Chair to extend Mr Cameron's time by three minutes. This request was handled brusquely by the Chair with much pounding of her gavel
Raheel Raza, President, Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, stated she believed Canada was the best country in the world. She stated that we seem to be trapped by the term Islamophobia as it has been used to confuse the masses and confound free speech. Religion is an idea and ideas do not have rights - humans do. Interestingly, she stated that in the 9th century there was a large community of "free thinking" Muslims. The religion of Islam has not always been so rigid ideologically. This group was seen as a threat by the ruling elite and it was eventually exterminated. Islam is ripe for reform but is being held back by repressive policies and practices that have crept into the religion over time. These include FGM, forced marriage, polygamy, slavery...Canada, she stated, should be leading in reforming these aspects of Islam rather than hiding behind a motion that curtails free speech. M-103 is divisive as it raises one religion above others even as 70% of Canadians feel it is the wrong way to go. In the question period, David Anderson (CPC) noted that the Liberal members of the Committee were filibustering their question time period to prevent the witness from answering questions and accomplishing what they had come to do. In response to David Anderson, she stated that, unfortunately, some of the wrong organizations are acting as leaders of the Canadian Muslim community. She went on to say that further restrictions in freedom of speech are "absolutely not" required. In response to MP Jenny Kwan, Ms. Raza stated that petition e-411 was a deflection from what is currently happening with regard to the rise of terrorism and radicalization around the world.