Thank you, Madam Chair, honourable members, for inviting me to your committee today as you start your study on systemic racism and religious discrimination.
I'm a member of Parliament in one of the most diverse ridings in Canada. I like to say that the whole world is represented in my city of Mississauga. We live beside each other as Canadians. We all, in our different ways, contribute to the building of Canada. We all form part of this beautiful Canadian fabric.
When it comes to the reality on the ground, I often find myself wondering how it is that we can come from so many different places, be of every colour, practise different faiths, and yet collectively be one of the most peaceful countries in the world? Balancing the interests of such a diverse and dynamic group of people as Canadians requires a lot of work. It requires partnerships between our policy-makers, our civil society that acts as watchdogs, our grassroots organizations that provide the programs and services required, and our individual Canadians and the respect they have for one another.
Madam Chair, racism and religious discrimination have no place in Canadian society. We value the differences among Canadians, and we know that diversity is our strength.
A recent survey commissioned by The Globe and Mail and conducted by Nanos Research in 2016, suggests that seven in 10 respondents said there's still a lot of racism in Canada. One in five have had racist remarks directed at them, and more than a third have said they have made a racist remark in the company of others.
In 2016 alone, there were cases of discrimination and racism in almost every community in Canada.
On September 20, 2016, the University of Alberta woke up to posters put around their campus, depicting turbaned men of the Sikh faith with racist insults written above them.
In December 2016 in Edmonton, a man went up to two women wearing hijabs, proceeded to pull out a rope from his pocket, tied the rope into a noose, and said, “This is for you.”
On August 18, 2016, Andre Bear, a student from Little Pine First Nation in Saskatchewan said, “I remember having white friends when I was growing up, but their parents didn't like me or they would tell me to go home. People weren't allowed to play with me because I was native.”
In November of the same year, swastikas and racist slurs were spray-painted on a church with a black pastor in Ottawa.
“Go home” was spray-painted on the Ottawa Muslim Association front doors, and anti-Semitic slurs were spray-painted on synagogues.
On January 29, 2017, six Canadians were gunned down in their place of worship.
Statistics Canada's most recent hate crime data shows that the number of police-reported hate crimes against Muslims increased by 60% in 2015, compared to the previous year. Many Muslim Canadians have told me personally that they do not feel safe practising their faith here in Canada. Statistics Canada data also shows that the number of incidents targeting Jewish Canadians remains the highest among religions targeted, at 178 incidents in 2015 alone. In addition, reported hate crimes targeting black Canadians still made up the largest percentage of the total number of incidents, at 224 incidents in 2015.
Madam Chair, systemic racism and religious discrimination are real. I listen to many stories from people every day. Early last year, an e-petition came to my attention that had over 69,000 Canadians coming together to call on our government to combat Islamophobia.
I was astonished by the numbers. This must be real, I thought, so I decided to do more research. I was even more astounded—and frankly disappointed—to find out that data on this issue was very limited. I struggled to find real numbers. Thus, in light of the limited statistics, the media reports, the concerns raised by Canadians, and the personal stories I heard, I felt that something needed to be done.
As a parliamentarian, I felt the need for more concrete data to reflect on the problem of systemic racism and religious discrimination as a whole in Canada. What could be a better place to study the issue than our own House of Commons, the house of the people? On December 1, 2016, I had the privilege to table motion 103. The motion builds on the support from e-petition 411 and uses the example of Islamophobia to make a larger point about the problem of all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination, which is that we have to find ways to tackle that broader problem in Canada as a whole.
Allow me to state on the record that I am not an expert on the subject matter but rather a believer in our parliamentary process. I trust that this committee will bring the best experts to the table and provide us—Canadians—with a more substantive look at the status of the systemic racism and religious discrimination issue in our Canada.
Due to this, my recommendations to your respected committee will be merely regarding the focus and direction of this committee as you move forward with this study. My recommendations are that this committee take a unified approach to study all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada; that this committee direct experts to testify on best ways to collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and, more specifically, how we as parliamentarians and government can support this; and, that this committee direct experts to testify on the best methods of reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada.
I would hope that the outcome of your study provides more concrete recommendations to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada.
Thank you, Madam Chair. I'm happy to take questions.