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Hearing into Liberals’ anti-Islamophobia motion showcases confusion, fears of free speech loss

While the committee is supposed to be gathering recommendations for how to combat racism, members spent much of the time trying to explain M-103.

Liberal MP Iqra Khalid makes an announcement about an anti-Islamophobia motion on Parliament Hill on Feb. 15, 2017

Liberal MP Iqra Khalid makes an announcement about an anti-Islamophobia motion on Parliament Hill on Feb. 15, 2017.

The Liberals’ anti-Islamophobia motion, M-103, could lead to thought control, oppression, disharmony and the criminalization of non-Muslims, the House of Commons heritage committee heard Wednesday, during some of the most extreme criticism of the motion it has heard to date. It was a hearing that showcased much of the confusion and polarizing rhetoric that has swirled around M-103 since it was tabled by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid in December 2016, and highlighted doubts about the language of the motion. While the committee is supposed to be gathering recommendations for how to combat racism, several committee members spent much of their time trying to explain what M-103 actually means. Liberal MP Julie Dabrusin was at pains to clarify that the motion is not a law, that the committee is not drafting a law and that the committee’s recommendations won’t create a new law. The committee is currently conducting a study of racism and religious discrimination, as required by M-103, which was passed in March. “We’re just doing a study,” said Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz. The Liberals spent so much time trying to explain M-103 that, at one point, Conservative MP David Anderson accused them of “filibustering their time.” “It seems they’ve been more interested in hearing their own voices than anyone else’s,” he said. Still, some of the witnesses painted dire portraits of what might happen if criticism of Islam were somehow banned in Canada. Jay Cameron, a lawyer with the Justice Centre of Constitutional Freedoms, spent several minutes explaining that M-103 could prevent Canadians from criticizing such practices as female genital mutilation. He also claimed the motion implies that the government should police the thoughts of its citizens. “Racism is something you can’t legislate against, per se, because it begins in the mind,” he said. In a tense moment, Liberal MP Arif Virani challenged Cameron to point to the part of the motion that asks the government to legislate against criticism of Islam or to accept genital mutilation, but left Cameron with little time to answer the question. Several MPs tried to play down the motion’s focus on Islamophobia, pointing out that M-103 refers to eliminating all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination. But the motion does single out Islamophobia, a fact some witnesses kept returning to. “Why are only Muslims mentioned by name?” asked Raheel Raza, president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow and a vocal critic of radical Islam. “I do believe that using the word Islamophobia in the motion will curtail free speech, because no other ethnic community or religious community is mentioned by name.” Eventually, chair Hedy Fry stepped in to reiterate that the committee is not focusing solely on Islam, and seemed to express some doubt about the language of the motion. “We’re not following the motion word for word,” she said. “We’re not having to slavishly follow anything in this motion.” NDP MP Jenny Kwan also conceded that the language of the motion was “perhaps not the best.” “I think it’s fair enough to say that this is not the most elegant motion that’s before us,” she said, but suggested the government does need to do something to fight a recent rise in hate crimes. M-103 touched off a political firestorm when it was debated in the House of Commons earlier this year, with many Conservative MPs claiming it would stifle free speech. The Tories tabled a counter-motion calling for a study of religious discrimination that didn’t explicitly mention Islamophobia, but it was defeated by the Liberals. As for the work the committee is actually supposed to be doing — putting together recommendations for fighting racism — concrete suggestions from Wednesday’s witnesses were hard to come by. “You don’t need extra regulations or motions to combat racism,” said Peter Bhatti, chairman of International Christian Voice. “It’s not that without this motion, nothing is being done,” said Father Raymond de Souza, a Catholic priest and National Post columnist. “The government does an awful lot, an awful lot on this file.” Raza said Muslim communities need to debate issues of hate and intolerance themselves. “It’s not the government’s responsibility to babysit just one community,” she said. This article was originally published on the National Post website on September 27, 2017 and can be viewed on their site by clicking here.

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