Evidence of meeting #71 for Canadian Heritage in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was discrimination.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jenifer Aitken  Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy, Planning and Corporate Affairs, Department of Canadian Heritage
Gilles Michaud  Deputy Commissioner, Federal Policing , Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Ritu Banerjee  Senior Director, Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Carl Trottier  Assistant Deputy Minister, Governance, Planning and Policy Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat
Jérôme Moisan  Director General , Strategic Policy, Planning and Research Branch, Department of Canadian Heritage

September 18th, 2017 / 4:50 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Flamborough—Glanbrook, ON

I appreciate the opportunity to be on this committee and to participate in this study. I also want to commend Ms. Khalid. It just so happens that my colleagues here beside me all serve on the Subcommittee on International Human Rights. Mr. Reid doesn't anymore, but he chaired that subcommittee for the better part of a decade. Ms. Khalid joins us and people who are dedicated to human rights, freedom, the rule of law, and certainly the fight against racism.

I want to begin my questions by saying that I'm glad we've had the ability to work together for the last couple of years. I believe that no matter how you may perceive my question, all your intentions have been good and for the betterment of all people.

At the expense of being the one who identifies the elephant in the room, I don't think it would be overreaching to say that everybody in this room agrees with the anti-racism aspect of M-103 and the defence of religious freedom aspect of M-103. The concern I highlighted in my speech, and I believe that Mr. Anderson did as well in the chamber, was in regard to the etymology of the term “Islamophobia” itself. I just wanted to know if you were concerned at all about this term. It's been around for a very short period of time. It hasn't really stood the test of any kind of academic rigour.

Are you concerned—and you've already heard from other colleagues, so it's not something new—that there's a large percentage of people in Canada who are concerned that their speech would be stifled if something like “Islamophobia” wasn't really defined? I'm wondering if you have any concerns in that regard, and I wonder what your definition of Islamophobia is.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

It's been a pleasure to serve on the international human rights subcommittee with you tackling issues of equality and ensuring that people's rights are maintained and respected.

The definition of Islamophobia I subscribe to is an irrational fear or hatred of Muslims or Islam that leads to discrimination. The committee is now commencing this study on all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination. I'm looking forward to having this committee engage experts on how we can help impacted communities and how we can work with impacted communities, not just of the Muslim faith but of the Jewish faith as well as indigenous communities, black Canadians, Chinese Canadians, and all minorities impacted here in Canada. How can we can work together with them as policy-makers to build those bridges and to tackle the difficult issue of systemic racism and religious discrimination here in Canada? I think it's about building those bridges.

Canada is a very diverse country. As I said in my statement, I feel that the whole world is represented in my city of Mississauga. Last I checked, there were about 43 different languages spoken in that city, which goes to show how diverse we are as Canadians.

When we are looking at a study that tries to tackle systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada, we really are looking to hear from those who are impacted. I think that the committee has reached out to a lot of different impacted communities.

I'm looking forward to following the progress of this committee and the recommendations that come from your hard work here.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Flamborough—Glanbrook, ON

So right now you wouldn't want to direct the committee, but you would encourage the committee to focus not on the Islamophobia aspect of it but on the broader aspect of racism—in terms of race, religion, etc.—with regard to every single community, and to make sure the study was broad in that regard?

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

That is the text of the motion. I believe it directs or asks the heritage committee to study the issue of all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Flamborough—Glanbrook, ON

I just want to remind you of the discussion that we had, about that being exactly the amendment that we wanted on the original motion, to make sure it included all racism without focusing on the one.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you, Mr. Sweet.

Now we go to Mr. Vandal for the Liberals for five minutes.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Thank you.

Thank you, Iqra. First, I want to compliment you on your courage in bringing this forward and your leadership in penning your motion and having this important discussion.

Are you aware that the Canadian Race Relations Foundation defined Islamophobia as “expressions of fear and negative stereotypes, bias, or acts of hostility towards the religion of Islam and individual Muslims”? In addition, the Ontario Human Rights Commission describes Islamophobia as “stereotypes, bias or acts of hostility towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general”.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Yes.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

I'm sure you're aware of that.

I'm going to continue the theme that was started by Ms. May. Your motion includes the following:

(a) recognize the need to quell the increasing climate of public hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and... (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia.

I know you've been threatened. People have called your office. They have sent you emails. They have not been very kind to you. People have called my office and complained that they don't want sharia law. They don't want their freedom of speech curtailed. Based on your lived experience, do you have any idea why this whole motion, which was well developed, just spun out of control into a bunch of basically lies, things that it was not? Do you have an opinion on that?

5 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

I think the conversation that Canadians have had over the past number of months was a very important conversation. I think it is a great way to lead up to this study. I'm very humbled and honoured that this study has commenced and that we are sitting here today ready to tackle this issue, to face all of the challenges that we do as Canadians, as a diverse group of people.

I think this study will give many Canadians like me, who may belong to a community or a minority or who identify themselves as such, that opportunity to speak, to raise their voice where their voice may not have been heard before. I think this study will enhance that freedom of speech, will really help to bring to light those voices, and will really give a microphone to those voices that haven't been heard before.

I think the opportunity and the challenge really lie with this committee to engage Canadians, all Canadians, in this conversation and to continue that conversation and to come up with recommendations as to how we can take those conversations and transform them into solid recommendations that we can use to better build those bridges amongst Canadians.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Do you feel that certain segments of the news media played a role in whipping up people's anxieties and fears and hate so that they would call this committee and express their outrage based on information that was completely false?

5 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

I'm sure they did. However, I think we can use the attention of Canadians, their ability or their interest to engage in this conversation as a positive; and this committee can really use their experiences to enhance the committee's opinions of all types of minorities, of all Canadians, and use that to inform it in its recommendations.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you.

Now we have Mr. Anderson for the Conservatives.

5 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you, Ms. Khalid, for being here today.

You talked a little bit earlier about visiting with some of the faith communities, and you talked about how they can't remove their creed, their distinctions, or whatever. A faith community by definition basically holds values that are different from the society around it and believes that it should be able to maintain those distinctive tenets without any interference. As you thought through this and went through the debate on this issue, do you think that we need to consider provisions in order to accomplish that, to be able to protect the faith communities in Canada so that they can then live out their distinctions without interference?

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

I will begin my answer by saying that it is an honour to serve with you on the international human rights subcommittee. You have always raised the issue of equality for everybody, regardless of which faith they practise. I thank you for your leadership on religious freedoms and for all of the work that you've done with that.

I want to say that the beauty of Canada is our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We are a secular nation that protects the rights of people to practise whichever religion they wish. They should not be discriminated against based on what they look like, what their shell looks like, or what orientation they are, what gender they belong to.

Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms does that. When we as a committee now— I keep wanting to include myself in this. When you as a committee study this, you're going to look at all of these issues. How do we enhance those rights that are already enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms? How do we ensure that Canadians are free and that their charter rights are protected? How do we ensure, as a committee, that we are continuing to build bridges among Canadians? How are we helping those impacted communities get the help that they need? How do we collect data? How are we working together to tackle the issues of systemic racism and religious discrimination?

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Okay. I think that both of us would have liked to have found ourselves on the same side of the vote in the House on this issue.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

And we are.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

We did try to make an amendment that we hoped would have been acceptable to the government, but it wasn't. However, I've appreciated working with you.

You're talking about faith communities realizing and seeing the rights that they have, but there's another side to that equation: people want to have the right to critique those very communities. Do we need to do anything in order to improve people's capacity in Canada to be able to critique honestly and fairly those communities that are different from the one in which they live?

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

I think that is a very important question. Where do we draw the line between one person's rights and another's? I think that, being the secular, strong nation that it is, Canada protects everybody's freedom to speak and everybody's freedom to practise whichever faith they belong to. The onus is on this committee. In studying systemic racism and religious discrimination in the coming weeks and months, how do we ensure that all rights are protected? How do we ensure that we are continuing to build those bridges and to increase those partnerships between different communities with diverse interests and complementing or contrasting interests? How do we, as policy-makers, come together to better build those partnerships and bridges among Canadians? I'm really looking forward to the recommendations that come out of this report.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Do you have any suggestions on legislative changes that we might take a look at that you feel are important or necessary? Have you thought of anything? Do you have anything that you would suggest? You're the witness here, and it's good that we're going to do our work, but do you have any suggestions? You mentioned the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and realizing those rights that we each have, but do you have any suggestions for the committee about legislative direction that we might suggest?

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

I think the whole goal of the motion was for this study to take place. I'm very happy to have been invited here, to come and commence this study. I'm really looking forward to what experts and what Canadians really have to say on this matter, and how it will form a part of the report and the recommendations.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

I think we should move on because we will shortchange the next group. I want to thank Ms. Khalid for coming and answering the questions so generously, and I thank everyone for participating.

We will break for about a minute while the other groups come in.

Thank you.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

We'll call the meeting to order.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), this is the heritage committee's study of systemic racism and religious discrimination.

We have four groups of witnesses. They are from the Department of Canadian Heritage, represented by Jenifer Aitken and Jérôme Moisan; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, represented by Gilles Michaud; the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, represented by Ritu Banerjee; and the Treasury Board Secretariat, represented by Carl Trottier and Margaret Van Amelsvoort-Thoms.

As you know, the usual protocol is that you will act as a group, so there will be four groups. You have 10 minutes to present. Then we will go through a round of questions from the group.

I shall begin with the Department of Canadian Heritage, Ms. Aitken and Monsieur Moisan.

5:15 p.m.

Jenifer Aitken Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy, Planning and Corporate Affairs, Department of Canadian Heritage

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I want to thank the committee for inviting me to appear today to support their efforts.

My name is Jenifer Aitken, and I’m the assistant deputy minister of strategic policy, planning and corporate affairs at Canadian Heritage.

The main focus of my remarks will be on providing the committee with an overview of the different tools and initiatives that Canadian Heritage employs to counter various forms of racism and discrimination.

To begin, let me highlight the extent of the diversity of our country. According to Statistics Canada's population projections, by 2036 Canada could see between 34.7% and 39.9% of individuals among the working-age population belonging to a visible minority group, compared with 19.6% in 2011. Additionally, the number of people affiliated with non-Christian religions could almost double to between 13% and 16% of the population, compared with 9% in 2011.

As the previous speaker mentioned, recent police-reported hate crime statistics demonstrate a 5% increase in reported incidents from 2014 to 2015. While hate crimes targeting black and Jewish populations remain the most common types of hate crimes related to race or ethnicity and religion, hate crimes against those of the Muslim faith increased by 61%, from 99 in 2014 to 159 in 2015.

While there are challenges, there is room for optimism. For instance, 87% of Canadians 15 years of age and older report that they are proud to be Canadian, and visible minorities express very high levels of pride in Canada. That comes from the general social survey of 2013. Furthermore, in a 2011 report, Canada was found to be the top-ranking OECD country on a measure of tolerance with respect to community acceptance of minority groups and migrants, with a score of 84% compared with an OECD average of 61%.

Taken together, this information provides the context for the Canadian Heritage programs that promote inclusion and address racism. The mandate of the Department of Canadian Heritage is centred on fostering and promoting Canadian identity and values, cultural development, and heritage. Canadian Heritage is proud to have contributed to Canada's 150th anniversary celebrations, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to inspire a new and ambitious vision for a vibrant, diverse, and inclusive Canada, and to recognize the rich and unique contributions of a diverse population.

In fact, one of the four thematic areas of the commemorations is diversity and inclusion. The Government of Canada is supporting hundreds of initiatives across the country that highlight this important theme—for example, celebrating the presence of people of African ancestry in Saskatchewan; a digital storytelling project by the Afghan Women's Counseling and Integration Community Support Organization, which conveys the journeys and settlement experiences of refugees from different parts of the world; and a festival called We Are Canadians, Too!, in which first-generation Asian Canadian youth share their experiences and perspectives.

The mandate of Canadian Heritage specifically includes responsibility for the Multiculturalism Act, which is grounded in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is part of a broader legislative framework that includes the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Citizenship Act, and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

The Canadian Multiculturalism Act recognizes the diversity of Canadians in regards to race, national or ethnic origin, colour and religion as a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society and outlines the government's multiculturalism policy.

To implement Canada’s multiculturalism policy, the program strives to fulfill three key objectives. These objectives are to build an integrated and socially inclusive society; to improve the responsiveness of institutions to the needs of a diverse population; and to actively engage in discussions on multiculturalism and diversity at the international level.

Inter-Action, Canada's multiculturalism grants and contributions program, has an annual budget of $5.5 million in funding for projects that promote respect for diversity by encouraging positive interaction between cultural, religious, and ethnic communities in Canada. An additional $3 million is allocated for community-based events that foster intercultural and interfaith understanding and raise awareness of the contribution of minority groups to Canadian society.

Since April 2015, Inter-Action has supported 26 projects that were approved for at least $9 million in total funding for initiatives that target interfaith and intercultural understanding and/or racism and discrimination. More than 200 community-led initiatives were supported in 2016-17.

In February of this year, the Minister of Canadian Heritage announced a new call for applications for the multiculturalism Inter-Action program with funding priority given to projects that work toward the elimination of discrimination, racism, and prejudice; provide opportunities for youth community engagement; and bring people together through art, culture, and sport.

Public outreach and promotion activities are also a key component of the program. Key activities include the celebration of Asian Heritage Month in May and Black History Month in February. To commemorate and launch Black History Month and Asian Heritage Month, the program organizes events featuring community and political leaders, which honour the legacy and significant contributions of these diverse groups to Canada.

The multiculturalism program also publishes an annual report to Parliament on the operation of the act, which highlights activities undertaken by federal institutions to apply multiculturalism principles in the previous year.

The program also supports the nationally standardized data collection strategy on hate-motivated crime. To promote a better understanding of the extent to which hate crimes are occurring in Canada, Statistics Canada produces annual analytical “Juristat” reports, examining the nature and extent of police-reported hate crime in Canada.

Canadian Heritage also coordinates and supports the government's participation in a number of international bodies and initiatives, including the 2010 Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combatting Antisemitism, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The department has also recently announced the reinstatement of the court challenges program, in collaboration with the Department of Justice. This program will provide funding to advance test cases of national significance related to Charter rights, including language and equality rights, as well as the Charter's fundamental freedoms, democratic rights, and life, liberty, and security of the person.

The Canadian government is also looking forward to the upcoming inauguration of the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa. Implemented through the National Holocaust Monument Act, which received royal assent in March 2011, the monument will serve as a symbol of Canadian values and diversity. It will be erected in memory of the innocent men, women and children who perished during the Holocaust.

Finally, I'd like to mention the portfolio agencies with which Canadian Heritage works.

Canadian Heritage benefits from engaging with the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, an arm's-length crown corporation that reports to the Minister of Canadian Heritage in her role as the minister responsible for the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. The work of the foundation contributes to the elimination of racism and all forms of racial discrimination.

Another portfolio organization that I would mention is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. Its purpose is to explore the subject of human rights, promote respect for others, and encourage reflection and dialogue.

Madam Chair and committee members, in conclusion, Canadian Heritage fully supports the government’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and to countering all forms of racism and discrimination. This is a key priority for both the multiculturalism program and other departmental initiatives.

As such, we look forward to this committee's findings as we continue our efforts to promote an equitable Canada with respect for diversity and inclusion.

Thank you.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you very much, Ms. Aitken.

I'll go now to Commissioner Michaud from our Royal Canadian Mounted Police.