Editor's Note: While this National Post article by Maura Forrest downplays the focus on “Islamophobia” in the Heritage Committee’s report released in early February, we should be wary the Committee’s recommendation to condemn Islamophobia (Recommendation 22), its endorsement of a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia (Recommendation 30), and its promotion of monitoring “hate speech” on the internet (Recommendation 29).
The report does recommend a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia, and other forms of religious discrimination
Liberal MP Iqra Khalid makes an announcement about an anti-Islamophobia motion on Parliament Hill, with Minister of Canadian Heritage Melanie Joly on Feb. 15, 2017.
OTTAWA — The report arising from the Liberals’ anti-Islamophobia motion, M-103, was made public on Thursday, and calls for a national action plan on racism and religious discrimination, better data collection on hate crimes and cultural sensitivity training for law enforcement.
But the report, titled “Taking Action Against Systemic Racism and Religious Discrimination Including Islamophobia,” makes almost no recommendations that specifically target Islamophobia, despite months of controversy over the use of the term in the motion tabled by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid in December 2016.
The report does recommend that Jan. 29 “be designated as a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia, and other forms of religious discrimination,” in response to requests from Muslim groups after six Muslim worshippers were killed in a Quebec City mosque shooting on Jan. 29, 2017. On the one-year anniversary of the attack, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a statement about the shooting and the importance of fighting Islamophobia, but did not declare the day a national day of action. Last week, the heritage department told the Post the government “has received and noted the proposal” from the National Council of Canadian Muslims.
Of the 30 recommendations, only one other specifically mentions Islamophobia, and only to say that the government should “actively condemn systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia.”
The report does not recommend the creation of any new laws. M-103 itself is a motion, not a law.
The original motion, which called on the government to conduct a study and come up with an approach to eliminate racism and religious discrimination “including Islamophobia,” generated a firestorm of controversy last year. Conservatives claimed the motion would restrict free speech because, they felt, the term Islamophobia is poorly defined. During committee hearings, several witnesses expressed concern that the motion would effectively stifle criticism of Islam.
But the recommendations outlined in the M-103 report target racism and religious discrimination in much broader terms. The report suggests the government should update the Canadian Action Plan Against Racism, published in 2005, and broaden it to include religious discrimination. Other recommendations call for the government to establish uniform guidelines and a national database for the collection of hate-crime data.
The report also recommends that federal, provincial and territorial governments take a closer look at the comparability of education and credentials obtained outside Canada, to combat employment barriers. Other recommendations call for more funding for research and for law enforcement to investigate Internet hate speech.
The report notes that the committee heard “differing views on the use of the term Islamophobia,” but does not offer an accepted definition of the term.
In a dissenting report, the Conservatives cast doubt on the premise of the whole exercise, calling into question whether Canadians are actually living in an “increasing public climate of hate and fear,” as the motion states. Their report suggests the per capita rate of hate crimes has declined since 2009.
The Conservatives also listed 26 different definitions of the term Islamophobia provided by different witnesses who appeared before the committee. “The concerns raised, regarding the dangers of an over-broad definition, or of attempting to condemn ‘Islamophobia’ without defining which thoughts and actions are thereby also being condemned, were widespread,” reads the Conservative report.
In their own list of recommendations, the Conservatives called on the government to “cease using the term ‘Islamophobia,’” and reiterate its support for freedom of speech and religion.
In an interview, Conservative MP David Anderson said communities and faith groups want to tackle issues of discrimination themselves, without government interference. “We don’t need the government to be overseeing every part of Canadian life,” he said. But he said the Conservatives agree with some of the report’s recommendations, including the need for better data collection. “No one is denying that (discrimination) exists.”
In a supplementary report, the New Democrats accused both Liberals and Conservatives of “political posturing” that diminished the committee’s work to tackle racism and religious discrimination. The report argues the government should have been more open to changing the language of the motion to include “an agreed-upon definition” of Islamophobia, but that “partisan politicking” got in the way.
“People wanted to know, in the context of the motion, what the term Islamophobia meant and what was the intent behind it,” NDP MP Jenny Kwan told the Post. “We could have all worked together to dampen the fear and the misinformation.”
Kwan said it made sense to include the term Islamophobia in the motion, because of the documented rise in hate crimes against Muslims. She believes the parties could have come up with a definition of the term that would have let all parliamentarians agree unanimously to the motion. But in an attempt from Liberals and Conservatives to appear to be on opposite sides of the issue, she said, that didn’t happen.
M-103 was passed by the Liberal majority last March, in the wake of the Quebec City mosque shooting. Throughout the hearings last fall, Liberal committee members frequently expressed frustration at the focus of some witnesses on the wording of the motion, and tried to steer the focus away from Islamophobia and onto racism and religious discrimination more broadly.
Anderson said the Liberals “misunderstood” how strongly Canadians would feel about the issue.
This article was originally published on The National Post website on February 1, 2018, and can be viewed on their site by clicking here.